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Behind the Scenes at Lazy Bear Lodge

The Lazy Bear Lodge, custom built with a modern log cabin style in 2005, is located on a 7-acre site off Dewitt Barnett Road in Vilas. It has five guest rooms, a cozy front porch and expansive back deck overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo by Jan Todd.

By Jan Todd

Luxury linens. Chocolates on the bedside table. Motion detector nightlights to help guests find
their way in the dark. A sprig of fresh rosemary garnishing the breakfast plate.

“It’s the little things that make a difference,” said Marsha Speer, innkeeper with her husband
John at Lazy Bear Lodge Bed and Breakfast near Valle Crucis.

Lea Wilkes of Newberry, South Carolina, credits the magic of Lazy Bear Lodge to the innkeepers themselves. “John and Marsha have a heart for doing what they do. They have a natural curiosity about people and their lives and make everyone feel welcome,” Lea said.

Marsha and John Speer purchased The Lazy Bear Lodge in 2017. The couple moved from their home in Ohio, where John had retired from a career in corporate accounting and Marsha had worked in customer service. With a lifelong love of travel, the two decided to operate their own bed and breakfast, and chose the High Country for its beauty and tourist appeal. Photo by Jan Todd.

She and her husband Patrick visit Lazy Bear two or three times a year. They first visited about eight years ago, when the property was owned by Ann and Mark Winkelman, who built the inn in 2005 and operated it until selling to the Speers in June 2017.

“We had always enjoyed coming to Lazy Bear, so decided to give it a try under the new ownership. Marsha and John quickly became our friends — and they continue to make each stay special,” Lea said.

Lazy Bear Lodge is a five bedroom inn on a 7-acre site off Dewitt Barnett Road in Vilas. Located just 6 miles from the shops and restaurants in Boone, the log cabin styled inn was custom built overlooking beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Adirondack gliders line the back porches and deck where guests can gaze at the view and watch birds, deer — and even spot an occasional bear.

The inn is decorated in a “mountain modern” style, with plush linens on the beds, classy yet comfy furniture in the guest rooms and living room. Paintings and photographs by local artists adorn the walls, mixed in with stained glass pieces handcrafted by John’s father. One guest room features a signed giclee painting by actress Jane Semour — which the Speers found in a consignment store in Blowing Rock.

Each guest room has its own bath with either a jetted or clawfoot tub, a gas fireplace or stove
and television. Three of the rooms have private balconies. Visitors can also relax in front of the
fire in the spacious living area stocked with games and magazines.

“It’s like a home away from home,” said Penny Painter from Greenville, South Carolina. She
and her husband stay at the Lazy Bear Lodge once or twice a year when they come up to the
High Country to enjoy hiking, shopping in Blowing Rock and visiting the Ashe County Cheese
Factory in West Jefferson.

The inn overlooks layers of the Blue Ridge Mountain, beautiful in any season. Photo by Jan Todd.

“We celebrate our anniversary in March with a trip to the mountains,” she shared. “We’ve been to large B&Bs in our travels, but they are always so busy with lots going on. We like the quiet atmosphere of Lazy Bear.”

The Painters first visited in 2017, shortly after John and Marsha purchased the inn. The place they usually stayed was booked, and Penny found Lazy Bear online.

“We’ve been going back ever since,” she said. “We fell in love with John and Marsha. They are such sweet, genuine people. We were the only guests in the inn that first visit, and we invited them to sit down and eat with us. We got to know them really well.”

Now, whenever the Painters arrive for a visit, Penny opens the front door and calls out, “Honey,
I’m home!”

“The Speers have a real passion for hospitality,” Penny said.

Love of Travel, Love of People

Neither Marsha nor John had a background in the hospitality industry prior to purchasing the
inn. John earned an accounting degree from Ohio State and was a financial executive with a
large public manufacturing company in Columbus, Ohio. Fellow Ohio State Buckeye Marsha
graduated with a degree in home economics with a specialty in textiles and clothing. She
worked in retail and in customer service, then stayed home to raise their two boys.

Marsha and John met during high school, when they both worked at McDonald’s in Lancaster,
Ohio, southeast of Columbus. “We didn’t go to the same high school,” John said. “She
attended a Catholic school and I was at the public school.”

A hand carved mantle with lounging bears adorns the wood-burning fireplace in the dining room at The Lazy Bear Lodge. Above the mantle is a tribute to Marsha and John’s home state of Ohio. Photo by Jan Todd.

Marsha asked John to her senior prom, and “the rest was history,” she said. They have been married for 42 years. Their son Joshua lives in San Francisco, and their son Justin and his wife Leslie live in Asheville with their baby, Isaac.

Travel was always important to the Speers, and they vacationed all over the country. “We took our boys out west to National Parks, on beach trips to Hilton Head, to Boston and New York. Every year we’d plan a trip,” Marsha said.

Both of her sons spent time in Germany during college. “That changed who they were. They
really grew up and gained a new perspective of the world, working and living abroad,” she said.

As the boys grew up and Marsha and John became empty nesters, they frequented bed and breakfast inns (B&Bs) in their travel.

“We’ve probably stayed in 70 B&Bs,” Marsha shared. “Our most memorable was one in Bath, England. It was a historic home, a beautiful yellow house with 14 foot ceilings. It was an amazing experience.”

Their passion for travel and their social nature kindled a desire to operate an inn of their own. John was considering an early retirement from the corporate world, and he and Marsha started
talking about what kind of business they could run together — one that would marry their skill

“We kept coming back to the idea of running a B&B,” John said. “I have plenty of business
experience, and Marsha has cooking skills and knows how to take care of people.”

Wes and Kathryn Salisbury, guests at The Lazy Bear Lodge, relax in the inn’s living area prior to breakfast. Photo by Jan Todd.

Innkeeping 101

After John retired, the couple spent three years planning the business, searching for a property and preparing their own home to sell. They remodeled baths and updated other rooms in their house, doing all the work themselves.

“My grandfather built homes and my dad taught me skills in carpentry. Marsha’s dad was a
plumber and taught me how to do some basic plumbing as well,” John said. These skills have come in handy as an innkeeper, he added. “You need to be handy, because an inn requires constant maintenance.”

They began their business planning by attending a trade conference for innkeepers, where they
attended a seminar targeted to potential B&B owners. They learned a lot about what to look for
when purchasing an inn, how to make the venture profitable, which internet and software tools
were best to manage the property, best practices and mistakes to avoid.

Tucked on the lower floor of The Lazy Bear Lodge are the owners’ quarters, with two bedrooms, a kitchen and living area and a private porch overlooking the mountains. Photo by Jan Todd.

“We still go to conferences and trade shows. There is always something more to learn,” John

The Speers quickly decided to purchase an inn rather than start one from scratch. “You have to
have really deep pockets to build or renovate a property and open a new inn,” John explained.
“It probably takes about two years of work before you even open, and you start with no
clientele. The first year you might expect about 20% occupancy — and you really need about
50% occupancy rate to make the business financially viable. So with a new inn, you’ll likely
have several years with very little cash flow.”

“There was no lag time in the operation when we bought The Lazy Bear,” Marsha recalled. “The
Winkelmans were moving out, we were moving in, and guests were at the front desk checking
in all at the same time. It was chaos!”

Ann Winkelman stayed around a couple of weeks to train the Speers and help with the
changeover. “They were good innkeepers and had a lot of repeat guests,” Marsha said about
the Winkelmans.

The dining room offers cozy fireplace-side tables for breakfast on a cold winter’s day, or outdoor seating overlooking the mountains. Photo by Jan Todd.

“Many people romanticize the thought of owning a B&B. They picture socializing with guests,
serving meals. They don’t stop and think about managing the house,” Marsha said. “After the
pandemic, we worked 130 consecutive days. John and I were staining the outside walls, I was
taking care of guests and doing most of the inside work because we lacked staff. It was the
nitty gritty side of the business.”

The best part of the business is getting to know their guests, the Speers said.

“We’ve made a lot of friends. We’ve even gone to visit some of our guests in their own homes on our time off,” John said.

In the winter of 2022, a big snowstorm stranded a houseful of guests at The Lazy Bear for two
days. “It snowed for 30 hours straight,” Marsha remembered. “Nobody could go anywhere. I
cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had chicken and noodles in the crock pot and made
pizza for dinner. It was actually a lot of fun — a highlight we’ll always remember.”

“We had one couple who had come to ski, so they snowboarded down our driveway,” John
added. “I was clearing the parking lot and the driveway with a snowblower and one of the guys
staying here pitched in and helped. After the weekend was over, one of the other guests was
leaving and asked the name of the assistant innkeeper so he could thank him, too. I told him it
wasn’t a staff member — it was another guest!”

Making the List

During their first year of operation, the Speers redecorated and refurnished each guest room
and the common areas. They spruced up the gardens outdoors and later remodeled the dining
area to include a large self-service station — with a selection of snacks and beverages and a
refrigerator for guests to use.

Marsha Speer assembles Monte Crisco sandwiches for the morning breakfast at The Lazy Bear Lodge. Photo by Jan Todd.

The Speers’ hospitality and attention to detail did not go unnoticed. Select Registry — the
“gold standard” of boutique lodging listings — reached out to include The Lazy Bear Lodge on
its prestigious list.

Select Registry includes properties offering “outstanding accommodations and one-of-a-kind
experiences,” according to its website. Properties must offer personalized service, unique
architecture, cleanliness, outstanding food and characteristics that are “a step above the rest.”

From their own travel experience, the Speers were familiar with the Registry prior to purchasing
The Lazy Bear.

“You’re not going to have a bad experience in a Select Registry inn,” John said. “They send inspectors out every two years to stay overnight in the inn, just to make sure everything meets their standards.”

Marsha’s breakfast entrees include pecan encrusted French toast, puff pastry with sausage,
Monte Crisco sandwiches and other delectable delights.

Marsha Speer’s Monte Crisco sandwiches are a guest favorite at Lazy Bear Lodge. Layered with thinly sliced ham and Jarlsberg cheese, the sandwich is dipped in an egg batter, fried on a griddle and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Marsha serves hers on a swirl of raspberry preserves with a hint of cayenne, and garnishes with fresh raspberries and a sprig of rosemary. Photo by Jan Todd.

“I alternate between sweet and savory every other day,” she said. “I try not to replicate a meal
when we have returning guests.”

Beth and Richard Davis, from Chapel Hill, are regular guests at the inn.

“Marsha is always looking for new recipes, so we never know what we’re going to be served, but it is always delicious,” Beth said. “Lazy Bear is our favorite Bed & Breakfast.”

Living Inn

John and Marsha live on the premises, in the owners’ quarters located downstairs from the inn’s main floor. They have two bedrooms, a living area with a kitchen, and a private deck. Their living quarters offer a quiet space for the Speers to retreat and replenish their energy, while providing access if the guests need anything.

While Marsha handles the breakfast meal, John makes a
cappuccino for a guest. Photo by Jan Todd.

They do hang out upstairs sometimes to mingle with guests, particularly in the mornings after breakfast.

“We tell them about the area, suggest places for them to visit,” Marsha said.
“It is really important for us to greet guests when they come in,” she continued. “We’ve stayed at plenty of B&Bs where our check-in information and keys are in a dropbox, and we don’t
even encounter the innkeepers.”

The Speers have a dropbox for those instances when they can’t be at the inn when a particular guest arrives but do their best to provide a personalized welcome.

Brewed coffee and a variety of teas are available for early risers on the selfservice station at The Lazy Bear Lodge. During breakfast hours, guests may request cappuccino and espresso as well. Photo by Jan Todd.

“You really have to care about people in this business and enjoy serving,” Marsha said.

Marsha said people often ask them about being an innkeeper, and how she feels after over five
years of entertaining “constant houseguests.” Would they do it all again?

“Yes,” she said. “Definitely. We’d do it all again.”