Ever dream of owning and operating a bed and breakfast in Maine? What if you found out that all you needed to do to make that dream come true was write an essay of 200 words or less, and pay a nominal entry fee?
Former Coronado residents Dennis and Chris Aplanalp, who own and operate Freedom House Bed & Breakfast in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine are “calling all dreamers, writers, and entrepreneurs” to explain why they should be the next owners of their bed and breakfast. The property features three upstairs bedrooms, a cottage with four separate rooms, and living quarters for Dennis and Chris. Before making the cross-country move back to Coronado, where they will retire, the Aplanalps want to find new owners for their B and B. They are searching for someone who will care for the property and business they have poured their hearts and souls into all of these years, someone who understands how special Freedom House Bed & Breakfast is to them.
The Aplanalps, who were both born and raised in Portland, Oregon, lived right here in Coronado for about thirteen years, where they raised their three children (Joshua Barbera, Christopher Barbera, and Heather Brownlie). All three of their children attended Coronado Unified Public Schools, and graduated from Coronado High School. Their oldest son Josh and his wife Tanya are both second grade teachers at Village Elementary School.
The couple moved to Maine from San Diego in 2002 “to get away and see what the east coast looked like.” Dennis says, “Our intention was to move to New England.” How did they decide specifically to move to Maine? “During an eighteen month period, we took about four trips to the east coast, each trip about four days,” Dennis explains. The Aplanalps toured Boston, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine to get a sense of which New England state seemed like the right fit for them before choosing to settle in Maine. The series of exploratory visits were the couple’s first time ever visiting New England.
Owning a bed and breakfast wasn’t even originally on their radar when they made their move, purchasing an old farmhouse in the town of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Dennis explains, “We had bought the house, really never thinking about opening a bed and breakfast. We spent about a year and a half refurbishing the property, and at that time our intent was to have our kids and grandkids come and visit us regularly, and we’d have a nice, big house. Then reality set in that the cost of airline tickets for our kids and our grandkids was such that that wasn’t going to happen on a regular basis. We decided we’d better make better use out of the big house.”
Dennis continues, “It had always been in the back of our minds, kind of a dream to own and operate a bed and breakfast. We decided to give it a go. Eleven years ago we opened the B and B.”
While operating a bed and breakfast was certainly a first for the Aplanalps, they were no strangers to the idea of running a business. When they were living in California, they owned and operated their own office supply company. When they moved to New England, they were able to continue running their company via computer, and their son, who was attending San Diego State at the time, managed the day-to-day operations back in San Diego. With a three hour time difference from the west coast, however, they Aplanalps found themselves having to work until 8 p.m. east coast time. Chris explains, “That continued on for several years until eventually the big box stores finally won out.” After twenty years, the Aplanalps closed their business.
She continues, “Luckily in the interim we had already started the B and B so we were able to close one business, and fall into the B and B full time.” Dennis chimes in, “Oddly enough, the office products company’s name was Freedom Office Products.” Chris laughs as she explains that keeping the name “Freedom” in their new B and B business made it easy to answer the phones. Instead of saying, “Freedom Office Products,” they just had to answer with, “Freedom House.”
Maine, known worldwide for its beautiful coasts, lighthouses, and snowy winters as well as their regional slang that includes words like wicked, lobstah, and chowdah, is home to some stunning towns so what made the Aplanalps move to Dover-Foxcroft? “We love the coast, but coming from San Diego, the east coast is quite different than the west coast when it comes to the ocean,” explains Dennis. “The east coast in Maine is very seasonal and very touristy,” he says. “We really didn’t want to live at the coast in Maine. We decided to go inland. The town of Dover-Foxcroft is kind of a throwback to the 50s. The downtown is very much like the 50s and 60s with an independent little theater and restaurants.” Dennis shares that they refer to Dover-Foxcroft as “Mayberry” because of its wholesome charm. “We were ready for a slow pace,” he says.
While the carefree days of life in New England were calling their names back in 2002, now it is their grandchildren who are pulling at their heartstrings. At the time that the Aplanalps moved to Maine, they didn’t have any grandchildren yet, and now they have nine grandchildren. “A lot of them are still very young,” Dennis says, “and it’s time to retire and spend a lot more time with the kids and grandkids. We’re looking forward to getting back to the San Diego area.”
While they haven’t even begun looking for homes in the San Diego area yet, the couple are hoping to become residents of the Crown City once again. Chris says, “Coronado is our first choice.”
What made the Aplanalps decide to have an essay contest to find Freedom House Bed and Breakfast’s new owners rather than simply sell it? Dennis responds, “We thought it would be different and interesting, and we feel it was important because we’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the property. We thought it would be nice to have a say in part of the selection process of having someone take it over. Freedom House is an integral part of this community. We’re very well known, very busy. We have a tremendous reputation. We just thought it would be a fun way to pass it on to someone who really has a passion and an interest in owning and operating a bed and breakfast. It’s very easy to sell a property, and then move on, but it’s almost like a child. You just want to have more input in who’s going to be the new owners of it.”
The Aplanalps are confident that they will be able to tell, in two hundred words or less, which applicants are indeed the ones who will love and care for Freedom House just as much as they have. The winner will be chosen by a panel of three independent judges, but it is the Aplanalps themselves who will select the twenty-five finalists from the applications they receive. “In an essay contest, we understand that people could put down anything they want,” Dennis explains, “but, for the most part, you can tell a lot about a person when they’re writing a paper.”
Do the Aplanalps’ three children have any reservations with their parents’ decision to give away their bed and breakfast rather than sell it? “Actually they love the idea,” Dennis says of the essay. “They are over the moon with the prospect of us coming back to San Diego. We’re a long distance away. Our daughter lives in Florida, and our two boys live in San Diego. They are just thrilled beyond belief. We’re a tight-knit family. Although we’re 3,000 miles away, we’re almost in daily communication with them, FaceTiming with the kids and such.”
If you’re thinking that this essay contest is just too good to be true, and that even if your essay was chosen as the winner, that it would cost you a small fortune to furnish and decorate a bed and breakfast, have no fear. Chris says, “It comes as a turn-key operation. They [the new owners] just basically need to bring their toothbrushes!” Furniture, decor, linens, plates, and everything else other than a few of the Aplanalps’ personal possessions in the inn-keepers’ quarters all come with Freedom House Bed and Breakfast. “Everything from soup to nuts will be ready for them,” she says.
What if owning and operating a bed and breakfast sounds like fun, but the prospect of it feels a little daunting to you because you have no prior experience in the hospitality business? Chris responds, “We will provide them [the new owners] with a period of time where we instruct them as to how we do it. They can certainly change it down the road, but to ensure an easy transfer, we’ll give them a tutorial until they’re comfortable with how it works. We will continue to take bookings, which will transfer to them as well. They’re good to go once they win and accept the prize!”
Still not convinced that you should apply? When asked what their favorite part about owning a bed and breakfast has been, the Aplanalps give a very sincere answer. Dennis responds, “Without question, the people we meet. Everyday we serve breakfast, and it’s a totally different experience as innkeepers. The people are so nice, and are from all over the world. It’s really an educational experience. We are amazed at the number of people from not only all over the United States, but all over the world, China, South America, all over Europe. To experience different cultures and lifestyles is wonderful.”
He continues by sharing how a local school in Dover-Foxcroft called Foxcroft Academy has two dormitories that house international students from twenty-six countries. Many of the students’ parents stay at Freedom House Bed and Breakfast when they are in town to visit their children. “Very often during the school year we will serve breakfast to six or eight of the parents, all from different countries, many of them not speaking English at all. That’s when my iPhone with Google Translate comes in,” he laughs. “It’s funny,” he remarks, “how well the parents communicate with one another, not even knowing each other’s language. It really truly is fun!”
Of course, owning and operating a bed and breakfast must come with its own set of challenges as well, but the international language barrier isn’t one of the aspects the Aplanalps list as a challenge. According to Chris, sometimes usually in the summer, it’s a little taxing when they’re trying to serve breakfast to a house full of guests who are checking out that day while also trying to prepare for turnover for the arrival of an all new set of house guests. “It certainly doesn’t happen all the time,” she says, adding, “It really keeps us on our toes.” Even in those moments though, when a set of guests who have requested an early check-in have arrived while she and Dennis are “putting finishing touches on everything for them,” it’s not a problem because guests can sit back and relax on the front porch in the rockers and adirondack chairs while they enjoy something refreshing to drink.
Dennis, who says he’s “pushing 70 [years old],” shares that for him the most challenging aspect of owning and operating Freedom House Bed and Breakfast, which he attributes to his age, is the exterior maintenance. “Chris and I do everything on this compound,” he says. With seven bedrooms and six bathrooms to care for as well as an extensive garden and large yard with grass, the Aplanalps themselves do the majority of the physical maintenance required for the upkeep of their business. With the exception of last year when, for the first time, they paid people to paint the exterior of the second and third floor, Dennis says, “We do everything. We don’t hire out.” He’s quick to add, “I still love doing it, but I don’t have the energy that I had fifteen years ago.”
While it would be natural to assume that the Aplanalps will be relieved to not have to do all the work on Freedom House once a new owner is selected, they will indeed miss their little piece of Heaven tucked up in the corner of New England. What will they miss most? “Clearly the guests,” Dennis says without a moment’s hesitation, adding, “and the home itself.” According to Dennis, eleven years’ worth of “thousands of guests” has resulted in an opportunity for the couple to form friendships with people from all of the world. They continue to keep in touch with guests through letters, emails, and Christmas cards, and have had multiple guests return to stay at Freedom House again and again. Of the home itself, Dennis says, “It’s the most beautiful home we have ever owned.”
The Aplanalps know that a move back to the San Diego will entail “much, much smaller quarters” for them, but Chris says with confidence, “That’s okay because we will have less work on maintaining things and more time with our kids and grandkids and being outside. It’s just a trade off at this time in our lives when we want to shift our focus. Like Dennis, I will miss the friends we’ve made here [in Dover-Foxcroft]. We moved here without any family. We’ve made some incredible friends, who have taken us under their wings, and treated us as though we were their family, and included us. They’ve been just lovely.”
She too will miss the house, and says they’ve made it their own. Dennis proudly chimes in that the house “shows off Chris’ talent of decorating.” When you look at the pictures of the Freedom House Bed and Breakfast on their website, it is evident that every room has been decorated with great attention to detail. The home truly has a unique character thanks to the love the Aplanalps have given it over the years.
What will the next owners be like? Do the Aplanalps envision people from Maine, or do they imagine people like themselves, once unfamiliar with New England, bringing a fresh set of eyes to Dover-Foxcroft? “You know, we really haven’t given that a lot of thought,” Dennis confesses. “This is going to be a total impartial judging.”
“Chris and I will narrow down the applicants to the top twenty-five,” Dennis explains, “and then we will turn those over to a panel of three independent judges. They [the judges] will make the final decision. We will not have any input as to who the winner is beyond the twenty-five. The entries will not have any identification on them on the essays themselves so when they are read, no one reading them will have any idea of where they’re from, what their names are, if they have kids, or if they’re a single person or married.”
Of the essay contest process itself, Chris adds that they don’t want the entries to have any identification on them to “protect the integrity of the contest so there is no thought of partiality.” She says, “It protects us from people thinking, ‘You just gave it away to someone you knew.’ We feel confident that in the twenty-five we will hand over to the judges, that any one one of them will do a great job.”
While not every state allows for a contest of this sort, Maine does allow for essay contests because there is no gambling involved. “They [Maine] consider an essay writing contest not a game of chance, but rather of skill, thus it is not gambling so the gaming commission is not part of it,” Dennis says. As far as the entry fee of $150 is concerned, that is included to ensure that anyone who applies to the essay contest is actually serious about doing so.
Once a winner is chosen this fall, and turnover of Freedom House Bed and Breakfast is completed with the new owners, the Aplanalps plan on spending time with their seven grandchildren in the San Diego area and their two grandchildren who live in Florida. In addition to spending quality time with their family, the couple, who has traveled extensively throughout New England in between guests, is looking forward to traveling within California. “We look forward to being back, and going to places we didn’t go when we were raising our kids that they now go to like Pismo Beach and Tahoe,” Chris shares. “We’d love to explore with them and the grandkids too,” she says.
Don’t delay! Entries are due by September 19, 2016, which just so happens to be Chris’s birthday. (Dennis chose that.) A winner will be chosen on October 13th, which is the couple’s wedding anniversary. Be sure to check out even more beautiful images of Freedom House Bed and Breakfast on the website’s photo gallery, which includes exquisite details about each of the seven bedrooms. Do you think you have what it takes to call yourself the next owner of the Freedom House Bed and Breakfast? More importantly, do Dennis and Chris Aplanalp?
To apply for the essay contest, click the official essay contest link.