Eat, Sleep, Jay

This charming bed and breakfast just three miles from Jay Peak serves up quite an experience

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

english_roseThe English Rose Inn, on five acres in Montgomery Center, is a 14-room bed and breakfast owned by trained chefs Gary and Mary Jane Bouchard Pike. Its appeal comes from slightly over-the-top Victorian decor and superb meals crafted by the innkeepers for customers, and the public by appointment.

In January 2001, it was a bit ahead of their schedule when Mary Jane and Gary Bouchard Pike opened the English Rose Inn for business. “That was the year that all that snow came,” says Mary Jane, “so we were forced to open for people needing beds. We were working on the place nonstop, plus I had a job in Burlington as a food-service manager at Birchwood Terrace.” Thankfully, she says, the license was in place.

“All that snow” might sound like a roadblock to some, but for innkeepers launching a 14-guest-room bed and breakfast in Montgomery Center a mere three miles from Jay Peak, it can be the answer to prayer — assuming things are in place.

The Bouchard Pikes had been working toward opening an inn since July of 1999, when they returned to Mary Jane’s home territory from Florida, where they had met.

Mary Jane’s Vermont roots are deep and strong. Her grandfather moved to Vermont from Montreal and started his family of 10 children, including her father, on a farm in Highgate Center. “My grandfather passed away, I think, at 54. He’s buried in Highgate Cemetery. The boys took over the farm for a while — there were eight boys.”

Her Uncle Andrew eventually ran the farm, but it was later sold.

Mary Jane’s mother is a Swanton native, she says, “descended from the Abenaki Indians. My father became a builder after they got married in 1948.” Their marriage certificate is framed and hangs on one of the walls in the inn.

After graduating from Missisquoi Valley Union High School, Mary Jane married a local man and they moved around the country. By the early 1980s, she was divorced and headed to Florida, where her parents had moved to take advantage of the building boom going on there.

She studied at Daytona Community College and trained at the Southeastern Academy Culinary Training Center, earning a Certificate of Excellence. This led to a three-year course at the American Culinary Federation’s Orlando-Central Florida chapter. She graduated in 1994, eventually earning the designation of Certified Dietary Manager from the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals, which she maintains.

She and Gary met when she was hired by the Sheraton in Orlando, where he was a sous chef. By then, he had considerable experience behind him.

A native of England, Gary grew up in Wichita, Kan., from the age of 15, when his mother married a GI who brought them to the United States.

“I started in the business at 15; worked for the Wichita Club on the 18th floor of Sun Bank for three to four years. I was just an apprentice back then, but it’s where I got into culinary.”

He had entered an apprenticeship program of the Culinary Institute of America, opting to study in the field rather than the classroom. During the three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship, he worked at the Wichita Club and the Wichita Country Club. “After that, I started to roam the country,” he says.

He landed in the Carolinas, working as a sous chef in Charleston for about three years; then to Kiawah Island, S.C., as a banquet chef, in charge of all five of the island’s restaurant facilities.

He laughs as he recalls running from one to the other, controlling their various menus, but most of the time overseeing banquets for 2,000 to 3,000 people. “It was a lot of work!” he exclaims.

He left Kiawah Island for the Florida Keys, where he worked for several years as a banquet chef for Duck Key Resort, followed by another small resort in Marathon. When it closed after a year and a half, he headed north. After working for a couple of restaurants in Orlando, he moved to the Sheraton Hotel.

“I started as a line cook, worked through the ranks and became a sous chef — one of three. That’s a big hotel, probably 500 rooms with restaurant and banquet facilities.”

“Five hundred sixty-five,” says Mary Jane, interrupting with a laugh. She interrupts again to remind him that he worked there for seven, not five years.

“Boy, how time flies!” says Gary, continuing the banter that no doubt helps them deal with the stress of living and working together hours on end.

They married in 1994. Mary Jane traveled to Vermont periodically, checking out real estate to find a property they could buy and turn into an inn. When they purchased the inn in 1999, they moved north and got to work.

“It was really stuck in the ’60s,” says Mary Jane. “It had green and brown colors, wood everywhere, a lot of paneling. Then we had to bring it up to code. We’ve spent many years putting it to where it is now.”

The winter they opened, Mary Jane quit her job at Birchwood Terrace, but held onto one in St. Albans for about six months. “I guess I’ve always done more than one job most of my life,” she says. “It gets you ready for this job.”

The building contains about 9,200 square feet, including a finished basement that isn’t used right now. The work is far from finished, she adds, noting that there’s always work to do.

“In the summertime, it’s all about the projects we’ve got going. Last summer, I did two to three rooms, redecorating what I had done 12 to 14 years ago. It’s taking a lot longer to do those things that it was back then,” she says.

Mary Jane administers the website and takes all the photos, uploading shots from weddings held on their five acres. A covered bridge at the back of the property is a favorite place for wedding photos.

They work as a team with help from Mary Jane’s sister, Sue Bouchard. A typical day, says Gary, is just a working day: get up in the morning, do breakfast, do rooms, then work on the building. It’s a new experience every day,” he says with a loud sigh. “It seems you get one thing done, then go back and do it again at some point.”

A small vegetable and herb garden supplies the kitchen in summer — “if we can keep the deer out of it,” says Mary Jane. She enjoys canning. One favorite at breakfast is the Branston Pickle she makes, named after a British brand of pickled chutney.

In winter, things ratchet up. Being so close to Jay, most of the visitors are skiers, and the inn fills up. Reciprocity with Jay is a benefit. “All the inns and lodges get discounted lift tickets,” says Karen Bennett, assistant to Bill Stenger, the president of Jay Peak. “Whenever there’s some kind of a function at Jay, Bill quite often invites the members, especially the lodging members, of the chamber to join us.

“We have a list of accommodations for when we’re totally full, or sometimes people call and say, ‘That’s a little bit out of our price range,’ and our reservations department has a list.”

Bennett met the Bouchard Pikes when they served on the Jay Peak Area Association, now the chamber of commerce, together. They’ve become friends over the years. “And the meals are out of this world!”

Having culinary backgrounds has created an added benefit for the Bouchard Pikes, who offer various afternoon tea events for special occasions (for as few as two) to elegant dinners at Paddington’s Restaurant, their fine dining establishment that’s open to the public by reservation two to three days in advance.

“We’ve had dinner there,” says Sam Leary, the owner, with her husband, of the North Troy Inn Bed & Breakfast. “It’s delicious!” Leary, too, met the Bouchard Pikes through the chamber, when the Learys ran a graphic design business before they had to give it up after a bad automobile accident. “Mary Jane and her sister helped me immeasurably when we started this place,” she says. “Every now and then we get together on shopping.”

The inn survived the recent recession, says Mary Jane, because of the ski season, although they did reduce their rates a bit. “Last year we had a good season.

“Winter is the winter,” she says. “We’re pretty much set on that. Once you fill 14 rooms, you can’t do any more. We’re hoping we’ll keep increasing the summer business. We do get people from the Long Trail — we’re two miles from it and advertised in the book for the Long Trail. We do get hikers — one-nighters hiking through — and cyclists coming by, although this year the road has been under construction.

Most visitors are skiers, she says. “Then we have packages: golf packages, which include golf passes to Jay, and elopement packages, for example.”

“Spare” time is usually spent on projects — for example, this year, stripping the stairwell, re-staining it, and putting the runner back on. Mary Jane considers photography a serious hobby and loves the Panasonic Lumix camera recommended to her by a Montreal film producer who stayed at the inn.

“The phone stops ringing in May,” she says, “and in November you typically get one or two people, so if we’re going to go somewhere, we plan it for those months.”

It’s clear that the Bouchard Pikes enjoy their work, even when it might seem never-ending. The goal, says Mary Jane, is to “keep doing it for as long as we can. I love to decorate, and I love to cook. And I enjoy meeting so many interesting people.” •