How do two sisters with no experience in the hospitality or restaurant business launch a successful hotel and restaurant? And then two years later add a Bed & Breakfast to their growing enterprise?
Meet Suzanne Walsh and Janet Rogler for the answers.
The women first give credit to the entrepreneurial spirit of their father, Richard Walsh. He and his brother, Thomas, along with Joseph Brantuk, created Island Boatyard years ago, which is now managed by Joseph’s son, James. Because of that business, the Walsh children have been spending summers here for 40 years.
“He inspired us to take a leap of faith,” Ms. Walsh said of her dad.
The sisters had talked about someday going into business together, and when John Sieni put La Maison Blanche up for sale three years ago, they decided to take that leap, cashing in other investments to buy the inn and restaurant on Stearns Point Road, and renaming it Shelter Island House.
“The first year was pretty intense,” Ms. Rogler said. A Garden City school teacher, who holds an MBA from Hofstra University, she thought she had the skills to handle accounting, human relations and marketing, and was confident her sister, who had been in commercial real estate in Boston, could manage other parts of the business.
The challenge the first year was figuring out what worked for them, Ms. Rogler said. An integral part of that was bringing in Julie O’Neill Bliss, “a hospitality pro,” Ms. Rogler said.
They operate the restaurant and inn year round, and offer locals a place to dine without paying a fortune, Ms. Rogler said.
In April, they closed on La Petite Maison Bed & Breakfast at the intersection of West Neck and North Menantic roads. Previous owners left the B & B in good shape, but Ms. Walsh and Ms. Rogler wanted to put their own mark on the place by redecorating, Ms. Walsh said, and changed the name to West Neck Guest House. The guest house is within walking distance of Shelter Island House, so those who stay at the B & B have full access to the pool and all other amenities at the inn up the hill.
The women also updated the rooms, which are a bit larger than those at Shelter Island House.
They plan to operate the B & B only during the vacation season when they need the extra bedrooms, since the 11-room inn is constantly booked, and the new place has another six rooms, Ms. Walsh said.
Will there be future additions to their young empire? Both laughed, while Ms. Rogler said she has enough to handle with the two sites and three young children. But Ms. Walsh said, “Never say never.”
The B & B features rooms with balconies, a bocci court, a large-sized lawn chess game, and free bicycles.
What they love about operating businesses on the Island is the cooperation and camaraderie they experience with other business owners, Ms. Rogler said. Just as they send their customers to eat at other restaurants, other businesses reciprocate.
“It has turned out to be a nice sort of partnership,” Ms. Walsh said about working with her sister.
“It’s been wonderful,” Ms. Rogler agreed. “This has brought us closer together.”