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February 4, 2019

'You have to want to find' this midcoast inn, and the buyers did

Courtesy / Alan Scherer Photography Waterfront views were part of the appeal for the buyers of the Craignair Inn & Restaurant in Spruce Head.

An online listing of the Craignair Inn & Restaurant, in Spruce Head, attracted the interest of a Boston couple seeking to transition away from corporate careers.

After digging into the inn’s financial prospects and business viability, Lauren and Greg Soutiea bought the inn from Joanne and Michael O'Shea for an undisclosed price. The property was listed in October 2017 for $1.475 million.

Dana Moos represented the sellers and Rick Wolf represented the buyers; both are with The B&B Team Inn Consultants and Brokers.

The location, at 5 3rd St. in Spruce Head, while about 20 minutes from Rockland, is off the beaten path. It’s 10 miles from U.S. Route 1 and overlooks Clark Cove to the east and Clark Island to the south.

“We’ve had some great transactions in places that would not necessarily be considered the Route 1 corridor,” said Wolf. “You have to want to find it. But when you’re there, it’s fabulous. It doesn’t mean you’re isolated. But it’s a little quieter pace of life.”

Properties like the Craignair satisfy the “experience” segment of the guest market, which is growing because of millennial demand, Wolf added.

“Millennials want to collect experiences,” he said. “So if you’re on a property overlooking Mount Katahdin or Moosehead Lake, or on a little back road on Spruce Head, these are all different experiences that really speak to them.”

Bringing diverse skills to innkeeping

Courtesy / Soutiea family
Greg and Lauren Soutiea, new owners of the Craignair Inn in Spruce Head, came to innkeeping from corporate careers.

Greg Soutiea is originally from St. Louis, and holds degrees in marketing management and advertising from Southeast Missouri State University. He came to innkeeping from a corporate career in the Boston property management industry, according to information provided by Wolf. He’s also a distance runner.

Lauren, originally from Indianapolis, holds a master’s degree in public health from Emory University and a biology degree from the College of Charleston; she has more than a decade of research and data analysis experience in the public health industry. She’s also an ironman triathlon competitor.

The couple told Mainebiz that winter is a good time to get up to speed on inn operations, since bookings at the year-round inn aren’t as full as they are in the summer.

They said they were working on building the business by booking more group events, joining local organizations like the St. George Business Alliance, reworking the website and having new photographs taken.

“One of the reasons we wanted to come right in is because we can slowly build up to the busy season,” said Greg. “We can learn with a couple of guests at a time, work out the kinks, and figure out any little changes we might want to make.”

The couple had been thinking about innkeeping for the last couple of years. Both in their 30s, they said they wanted to find something they could do together after working up to 50 or 60 hours per week on their separate careers.

“We both worked pretty hard and didn’t get to see each other,” said Greg.

They said they chose innkeeping for their joint endeavor because it would utilize their different skill sets, his in property management and hers in public health.

Searching online

They looked at 12 to 15 places online, dug into the financials of the ones that seemed appealing, then selected the Craignair and another property in New Hampshire to visit.

“We either wanted to be in the mountains or by the ocean,” said Lauren. “That helped us narrow down where we were searching.”

The Craignair was appealing for its location, said Greg.

“It’s at the end of a dead-end road,” he said. “You crest a hill and there’s a spectacular ocean view out in front of you.”

They first visited it in August.

“It was perfect New England August weather,” he said. “There was a beautiful sunset that night, looking out toward the water. The next morning, we got up to go for a run, and there was an equally incredible sunrise. That did it for me.”

Lauren said she was struck by the character and history of the building and the way it’s been kept up.

“You can also tell that this inn is located in an area that’s a tight-knit community,” she added. “The neighbors have been very welcoming.”

The property includes a restaurant that’s open Friday nights in the winter. Come spring, it will be open six nights a week. In addition to serving inn guests, a third to a half of customers come from the local community, said the couple. Restaurant staff have stayed on through the sale.

Building once housed quarry workers

Courtesy / Alan Scherer Photography
Rustic floorboards and furnishings hark back to the inn's original provenance as housing for local quarry workers..

The Craignair was built in 1928 to house workers from nearby quarries, according to its website. It was converted to an inn in 1947. The chapel where the stonecutters and their families once worshiped is now an annex to the inn.

A granite causeway, evidence of the quarry workers' time, stretches across the water to Clark Island, where a quarry there once produced Clark Island granite.

“Craignair” is Scottish for “black rock,” and pays tribute to the workers, many of whom were from Scotland, said Greg.

The buildings, on just less than two acres that also includes a parking lot, are in excellent shape.

“The sellers had done a ton of work over the past 10 years,” said Greg. That includes new wallpaper and renovated bathrooms. “That was one of the things that drew us to this building. We could tell it was well cared for. We’ll do minor touch-ups here and there, some painting to spruce things up. But overall it’s in great condition.”

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