LOVELL, Maine — A wrap-around porch with White Mountain views. Brilliant hardwood floors. Exposed beams overhead in a rosewood dining room. An updated chef’s kitchen. An original Rumford fireplace. Seven guest units that invite slumber. Twelve acres and a barn.
All this could be yours for the right 200 words.
Center Lovell Inn owner Janice Sage is offering her $905,000 historic institution the same way she got it — through an essay contest.
“I would like to pass it on to somebody who can’t afford to go out and buy an inn or restaurant. This is a way for really talented people out there to give it a shot,” said Sage, walking through her gleaming, freshly painted 1805 inn decorated with period wallpaper and accented with polished oak and maple mantles and a long, cherry banister.
Sharpen your pencils.
To win this stunning bed-and-breakfast near Kezar Lake you need to demonstrate your ability to run a New England inn and give voice to your passion. If you can scrape together the $125 entrance fee, you many have a shot. Proper grammar counts.
To keep the contest fair, you can’t have ties with the inn or have had a previous relationship with Sage.
Her advice to entrants is to be realistic.
“A lot of people think this is going to be like ‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ that you are just talking to people all day long,” she said. “You are socializing, but it’s a lot of work.”
Sage, 68, has had her hands full as the innkeeper at Center Lovell Inn. She’s up at dawn to start her day, answering phones, welcoming guests and cleaning, too. Inside the industrial kitchen outfitted with three ovens, a grill and ample counter space, Sage cooks breakfast — French toast and scrambled eggs — each morning for guests.
Until this year, she served a full gourmet dinner in the inn’s restaurant, which is open to the public. Dinner service was stopped for personal reasons during the off-season this year, however, the next owner will be able to give it a go year-round. She is always on her feet, and as a result, they have grown a size.
“My feet are getting bigger every year. I went from a size 10 C to 11 triple E.”
A natural storyteller, Sage plans to read every essay and select the top 20. Names and addresses will be kept from Sage, and she will select the ones that speak to her. Two anonymous judges will then choose the winner.
“I want it to come from the heart, but have some bones to it,” she said.
Interest in the contest for the inn has spread worldwide. So far she has received calls from interested people in San Diego, Canada, New Zealand and England. There also has been media attention from London newspapers to the “Today” show, which is expected to air a segment on it later this week.
This isn’t the first time the impressive address has changed hands via an essay contest. Former inn owner Bil Mosca dreamed up the idea in 1992 and is now writing a book about the endeavor. He expects it to be released in three months. It will include Sage’s entry.
Mosca, who still lives in town, is pleased that Sage is finding the inn’s new owner via an essay contest.
“She nursed the inn. It would break your heart if she hadn’t. Janice has never broken our heart. How could you not pull for her?” he said. “I am hoping that when she picks her people, they will do the same.”
Twenty-two years ago, the New York native was waitressing in Maryland when a friend told her about a contest that was mentioned on “The Phil Donahue Show”: Write an essay and win an inn in Maine’s western lakes and mountains region.
Having worked in hospitality her entire life and itching for a change of pace, she jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to get back into New England where it was cooler and has the change of seasons,” Sage recalled Tuesday.
To her surprise, her essay sailed to the top of 5,000 entrees.
“I still remember what I was doing and what I was wearing when I got the call,” said Sage, a tall, pleasant women with an easy laugh. “It’s been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I remember how happy I was and hope someone will be as happy as I am.”
When the keys change hands at the end of May, Sage is looking forward to her next chapter.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business for 38 years. It’s time to move on. Time to retire,” she said.
She said she plans to rent a place in Lovell and “do nothing and get my marbles all in order and decide what to do from there.”
Though Sage has endless energy and love for the inn, her “grande dame,” she won’t miss being on her feet around the clock.
However, she will miss the people. Family reunions have taken place in the country inn with a widow’s watch and red chestnut barn with huge beams. Parents dropping children off at nearby camps have become frequent guests and fast friends. Through the years, the inn with peaceful views of the presidential range has become more than shelter and an income property. The inn has been a friend for Sage through thick and thin.
“I am going to miss her. She’s a beauty,” Sage said of the inn.
To keep the inn restored and ready for guests year-round, Sage worked on it from stem to stern with her father.
“I always tell her it’s a good thing she cleans up well or I wouldn’t spend all this time working on her,” said Sage, who still marvels at the inn’s curves, high ceilings and post and beam structure.
Sage also has some tips for would-be innkeepers.
“Treat your housekeeper like gold,” she said. “When your housekeeper calls in sick? That’s a killer.”
If Sage receives the expected 7,500 entrees, she will award the winner with $20,000 in startup money in addition to the keys to the inn.
“It has to be in true formal essay form with a beginning, middle and end. Grammar has to be correct, you need to convey why you feel you can continue to operate the inn and keep it as a viable business,” said Sage. “There are lots of young people who would do a fantastic job. You have to have the stamina.”
For more details on the contest, visit wincenterlovellinn.wordpress.com.
The following is the winning essay in the contest for the keys of the Lovell Inn:
Twelve years ago, we embarked on the journey of painstakingly converting a dilapidated building into a charming guesthouse and restaurant. We were newly married and learned important lessons that both solidified our relationship and allowed us to have a thriving business in the process. A successful marriage requires passion, hospitality and commitment. Perhaps the same is true for this venture.
Hospitality is more than good manners, proper etiquette, great food and a comfortable room: it is also about being consistent, keeping pace with customers’ demands and taking good care of the staff. However the welfare of a marriage is always of paramount importance.
My wife is the talented chef with a culinary degree, catering and restaurant management experience. I have marketing, inn-keeping, bartending and handyman skills. Our teamwork earned us several TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and top peoples’ choice accolades, including Best Chef, Best Gourmet Dining and Best Bartending. This contest is fortuitous since we now aspire to finally own a place outright; somewhere to share our love of fine food, great wines and entertaining with others. Undoubtedly our passion, hospitality and commitment is the perfect recipe for a successful marriage to the beautiful Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant.