Julie Stadig visited the Ashford Inn for the first time nearly one year ago. This week will make six months she and her husband Eric have owned the well-known establishment on College Street, and she couldn’t be happier about how everything has fallen into place.
“It’s been a little hectic and busy, but exhilarating,” Stadig said, “just meeting all kinds of people and doing all kinds of work.”
Originally from Towson, north of Baltimore, Stadig went to Towson High School, onto Frostburg State University in western Maryland and then moved into the Washington D.C. area, where she was an IT director and government contractor — a “Beltway bandit” as some say.
“I did that with the State Department for about 20 years,” said Stadig, sitting inside the Ashford Inn’s living room overlooking College Street. “I met my husband at work and we moved from D.C. out to northern Virginia (Nokesville) and we’ve been there the past eight years. We have kind of a commuter relationship right now. We’re putting our house on the market next week and he’s been doing some renovations to it. He’s here in spirit right now, but he’ll be down here in due time.”
Stadig has been operating the inn since mid-January, when the sale was complete from previous inn owners Mason and Patty Tarr, who the Stadigs became fast friends with during their mutual transition.
“I was tired of commuting to D.C. and tired of sitting in front of a computer all day. We have two dogs and two cats — they’re our kids — and I just felt like I wanted to be home and baking. I was just trying to figure out a way I could stay working and still pay the rent. I think sitting in front of a computer all day was just draining us of our creativity.”
Julie had her own small catering company in Virginia, handling a few events a year while baking for the local farmers market in Nokesville, which she managed. Chasing her dream, she researched numerous bed and breakfasts and ultimately went to a seminar for aspiring innkeepers.
“I’ve always enjoyed catering and always enjoyed my experiences staying in bed and breakfasts. Eric and I have done a lot of traveling and stayed in a lot of different kinds of hotels. With the State Department, we’ve been to like 60 countries and we know what we like as far as bed and breakfasts and accommodations, and what business travelers need,” she said.
While the couple looked at possibly fixing up a historical house in Nokesville, saving money and planning “for cutting the umbilical cord off of the corporate life,” prospects were a bit expensive and fate soon opened up a door in North Carolina following that seminar.
“We really enjoyed the presenters, who ended up being our mentors for finding the Ashford Inn,” Stadig noted. “Patty and Mason also solicited the same couple to help them sell it. That was kind of kismet. We wanted to buy it, they wanted to sell it. We all really liked each other. It worked out really well.”
Last August, Mason Tarr contacted Julie while she was at her sister’s house in Beaufort. She quickly consulted a map and found it was halfway from Beaufort to Nokesville.
“I need to stop, I might as well stop there,” she recalled saying. “So I stopped in and Patty and Mason were just great. They were so enthusiastic.”
After that, both Julie and Eric came back to Clinton and stayed at the Ashford Inn a couple times.
“We had some Alfredo’s, some Southern Exposure, met some people,” Stadig commented.
The Tarrs left Clinton earlier this year after owning and operating the inn for eight years. Patty called it “divine intervention” the way things worked out with the Stadigs.
“It’s really nearly a mirror image of how we came about buying The Ashford Inn,” Patty Tarr told The Independent in January, describing how the Tarrs met the Stadigs through the Professional Association of Innkeepers. Just as Mason and Patty left corporate jobs to run the inn nearly a decade ago, the Stadigs did the same.
“I honestly believe that this is going to be a perfect transition,” Patty Tarr said at the time. “The faces are going to change but there will be a minimal impact, business-wise. I really think things will be very, very similar to what people have come to expect when they visit The Ashford Inn.”
Many months later, Stadig feels like that is exactly what has happened, with bridal luncheons, baby showers, dinners, United Way lunch meetings and church group gatherings being regular occurrences and the inn staying occupied just as it has in the past.
“I’ve tried to maintain the same service that they were providing. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Stadig said.
While Eric has stayed behind in Virginia to take care of a few things, Julie said she is settling in, thanks to a support system of family and friends.
“I think the reality hit me a couple months ago, because I was here, having to sink or swim,” Stadig remarked. “I have a great support system. My sister came down for a couple of week, my sister-in-law came down for a couple weeks. I had a group of my friends from Frostburg stay for a weekend. I haven’t been alone, and my niece is here now. She’s helping me out for the summer. So by the time (Eric) gets here, he’ll be the one who has to go through the adjustment.”
Further easing the transition has been a welcoming community, a good staff — even the Tarrs.
“Luckily here I do have some help, some of the same people that were helping Patty and Mason out,” she said. “Everything has been really easy and smooth I think. I hope everyone else thinks so.”
Staying in touch with Mason and Patty has made the move smoother.
“People have been so welcoming and the transition was very easy with Patty and Mason,” Stadig stated. “We’re still in touch. I still text them and ask them questions. I’ve used Patty’s menu items because I know people like them. Pecan chicken, I think I’ve made it 47,000 times since I’ve been here. That’s great. People like it.”
And she’s switched up a few well-known items, adding her own twist to them, along with offering her own crab dip, cheese puffs and beef tenderloin to name a few. There will be many more offerings to come. Breakfast specialties are already becoming local favorites, made from homegrown produce such as the blueberries and peaches that are in season now.
“I do a lemon souffle pancake with blueberries, peach muffins, peaches and cream French toast … I’ll take some of the local vegetables and make frittatas,” said Stadig.
She gets a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from Beartrack Farm in Turkey, where she gets veggies, bread, eggs and pork products.
“The community here is very strong,” said Stadig, rattling off various aspects of the local community, including Sampson Community Theatre productions, the downtown area and the Farmers Market and the many produce stands that dot the community. “It’s refreshing.”
The Stadigs have big plans for the Ashford Inn. Julie said she wants to implement some off-site catering similar to what she did when she operated her own one-woman business. She also is seeking to add a room or two to the lodging side.
“On the bed and breakfast side, we’re probably going to add a couple rooms, maybe offer some long-term rentals. You’d be amazed at the amount of calls I get asking for a monthly rate,” she said. “We’re looking at having another ground-floor room. We only have one, so we’re thinking about doing two.”
That would be done by adding a bathroom off the existing office space in the downstairs room to the left (coming into the front door) and converting it into a bedroom. That is already in the planning stages.
“I’ve talked with a contractor and I’m on his schedule for a couple months,” Stadig said. “It’s an office and it’s nice but I’ve found that I really don’t need the space as much as someone might have needed it in the past. I can check people in on a tablet and I can use it as a bedroom. I think it will be a popular.”
The inn currently has five rooms, including four upstairs. Stadig said she is thinking about adding another upstairs bedroom too.
A cafe could be a possibility in the future as well, opening for a couple hours in the morning to accommodate those who want some coffee and a pastry or the like.
One day after serving breakfast to a small group, Stadig said she came back around to serve some more coffee and found that each person was comfortably seated peacefully around the table, device in hand, coffee close by, utilizing the wifi Ashford Inn has made available.
“I was thinking maybe we could have a little Starbucks thing going on,” Stadig said. “Come in get some muffins, breads, pastries, even do some carryout. It would just be an add-on, which really wouldn’t take anything. I already have parking.”
While some aspects of the inn will change, the decor and ambiance will remain intact. It is what attracted Julie and Eric to the inn on College Street in the first place, and what they want to use to attract others.
“It’s beautifully kept-up. There’s nothing glaring,” said Stadig, again praising the Tarrs for what they established. “I love the paint, I love the decorations. I’m not planning on changing the look and the feel.”
And it has stayed busy, something Stadig hopes continues for the foreseeable future.
“It’s been busy for the past six months,” she said. “I don’t see it getting slower.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.