Inn at the Falls owners Minna Hu and Cliff Wichmann jumped head first into a new industry when they decided to buy the inn earlier this year. While its come with its hurdles, including a last minute move from California to Ontario, they’re excited about the vision they have to reinvigorate the historic Bracebridge property.
Wichmann grew up in Gravenhurst, but in 2013, his career led him to California where he met Hu. A mutual friend tasked him with teaching her to drive and though she failed five times under his instruction, Hu eventually got her driver’s license and the two became well acquainted. They were later married and started their family in California before moving to Muskoka with their two boys earlier this year to run the inn. Running a hospitality business is new to them, but upon visiting, Hu said they immediately saw the inn’s potential. Locals told them stories about visiting or working at the inn, which inspired the new owners to revitalize the property and restore its status as a community hub.
“We just see that connection with the community, that’s what excites us,” Hu said. “We want to bring [the connection with the community] back and rekindle it.”
The inn’s main building was originally a Victorian private residence built in the mid-1870s and was converted to an inn in 1943, though original features such as the carved wooden bannister in the main entrance and the century-old fireplace in the lounge were preserved. Over the years, a second building known as the Mews was added, expanding the accommodations at the property that overlooks the Muskoka River.
There was a lot of uncertainty when they first took over the inn, Hu said. Not only was the business new to them, but between stay-at-home orders and light bookings, they weren’t sure how the pandemic would affect their first year running the inn. When the weather warmed up and summer came around, they started to see things turn around for the better.
Hu said their goal throughout ups and downs has been to do whatever they can to make each guest’s stay as memorable as possible. Part of that has been renovations to spruce up the inn, both inside and out.
“We updated the interior of all rooms in the Mews, new carpet, new paint,” she said. “We also replaced the roof of the main building, and right now we’re doing more exterior work, replacing walkway railings, new tiled walkway and new concrete for front entrance, to give the inn a fresher look.”
Another exciting project for Hu and Wichmann is the renovation of the restaurant and pub as they aim to create an all-seasons boutique inn with superior amenities within steps. They’re looking for experienced people to join their team and bring the restaurant and pub to life when it opens for customers in January or February 2021, so they encourage people, especially locals, with restaurant or pub experience to reach out and apply.
As they continue to build the business, Hu is enjoying having the opportunity to discover Muskoka alongside their guests. From paddle boarding and beach days in the summer to enjoying the colours of fall, she’s excited to pass her newfound knowledge of the area on to their future guests to help them have the best stay possible.
Wichmann, on the other hand, is excited to rejoin the community he grew up in. One of his fondest memories of Muskoka is having the window open during snow storms and listening to the snowflakes fall, so he’s excited to introduce his wife and sons to the joys of winter.
“There is no other place quite like Muskoka,” Wichmann said. “We have the right balance of nature and civilization. We are really looking forward to spending some time appreciating the snow and teaching the kids how to build and use a snow fort.”
Before purchasing the inn, they knew the project would take significant blood, sweat and tears and in the last six months, they’ve experienced it all, he said. However, with the support of the community, contractors and visitors, there are exciting things ahead for the Inn at the Falls, Wichmann said, and he’s excited to be part of the history as well as the future of the inn.
“When I was a child, like many others in this area, I ate at the restaurant in the inn and am really excited to bring the inn, restaurant and pub back to the community along with the jobs that these will provide,” Wichmann said. “We have heard many wonderful experiences and stories about the inn and are invested in bringing a future that will be as glorious and as precious as the past.”
This post is sponsored by the Inn at the Falls.