Innkeepers ready for their next adventure

INN SOLD — Julie and Rick Whelchel recently sold The Noble House Inn in Bridgton to Houston, Texas attorney Cindi Hooper. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Julie and Rick Whelchel have always looked forward to the next adventure in their lives.

Ten years ago, the couple tired of the grind of corporate America and decided to try something they had no previous experience doing. After looking at 60 inns, they settled on a quaint bed and breakfast in Bridgton.

“It fit everything we wanted in an inn,” Julie said. “It was the right size. It was in a great town. We love the outdoors, so it was a great fit.”

Life at The Noble House was everything and more that the Whelchels hoped it would be.

They created new friendships from all over the world as about 2,000 people each year spent time at the inn, either for special occasions or simply as a chance to get away to a quiet place where they could enjoy scenic beauty, recharge and “refresh their senses.”

Julie and Rick were able to find a balance, between tackling a new profession that brought daily challenges and rewards, while also finding time to enjoy their own family. Admittedly, they surprised themselves at times. Be it a new recipe that proved to be a hit with guests or renovation work inside the inn that made an impression, Rick and Julie continued a tradition of excellence at the Highland Road historic home. The Noble House gained both local and national recognition for outstanding service, being tabbed as Inn of the Year.

“We really had no idea whether we would succeed at this. Early on, our goal was to simply survive. We had no experience as innkeepers. We had no idea whether we would even be good at this,” Rick said. “Eventually, we found that we were pretty good at this — that’s what our guests told us. We loved every minute of it.”

As much as Rick and Julie loved being innkeepers, they realized two years ago that the time had arrived to “explore other opportunities.” Feeling it was time to move on to their next adventure, the couple put the inn up for sale two years ago.

“There was no ‘For Sale’ sign on the front yard,” Rick said. “With the slow economy, we weren’t sure about the number of people who might take a look at the inn. We had a number of ‘tire kickers.’ We felt eventually the ‘right person’ would come along.”

Cindi Hooper was that person. An attorney from Houston, Texas, Hooper took over ownership of The Noble House as 2012 came to a close.

For Julie and Rick, handing over the keys was a bittersweet moment.

“We’re mourning the change,” Julie said. “Yet, we’re excited about the future. The first couple of days were hard.”

The couple has been busy renovating an old antique shop on Main Hill, which they have moved into. Their plan is to travel, visit family and “rest.”

“We have thousands of ideas as to what we want to do, but for right now, we’re still considering our options,” Rick said. “We can say we plan to stay. This (Bridgton) is our home.”

Bridgton is a far cry from their previous home — Alabama.

Arriving in December 2003, the couple was welcomed to Maine with three straight days of snow, which dumped 16 inches.

“We still remember wondering what do you do with a roof rake? We had no idea what a roof rake was and no idea why you would rake a roof. We found out in a hurry,” Julie recalled. “It was typical of our time as innkeepers. We had the outlook that we would not panic and we would figure it out. That approach got us through the ups and downs.”

As they left the inn two weeks ago, Rick and Julie couldn’t help remember all the great memories “under that roof,” including 80-plus weddings — one performed by Rick — and bringing their entire family (14 from out-of-state) together for a Christmas celebration. They will cherish the times spent with guests, as well as watching new and lasting friendships develop between folks from all corners of the world.

“Every inn develops a personality — that of its owners, as it should. Julie and I wanted to make people’s stay at The Noble House a unique experience. I believe we succeeded in that because that uniqueness is what kept bringing people back,” Rick said.

Rick and Julie claim another magnet was Bridgton, itself. The charm that lured the Whelchels here in 2003 captivated many guests.

“A number of people fell in love with the area when they visited,” Julie said. “After vacationing here, some even decided to build a second home here. They still stop by to see us, from time to time.”

What Rick and Julie will miss most is the chemistry that seemed to develop between themselves and their guests. Despite a short time together, a special bond ignited, in many cases, it lasted for years.

The Whelchels also attribute their success to a local community that responded whenever they needed help.

“I remember receiving a call on a Tuesday about having a wedding here on the weekend. I gave Gary Silverblade — who had taken care of our grounds from the beginning — a call. He simply asked me what he could do to help. The place was spotless,” Julie said. “We have a great group of people and merchants here.”

New owner Cindi Hooper has discovered the same thing.

“The first thing Cindi said to us was how incredibly nice people here have been to her. She said she hadn’t experienced that before and wondered if it was real? We said, ‘Yes. It is real,’” Julie said.

Rick agreed, “We couldn’t have asked for a better group of neighbors.”


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