The new owner-operators of the historic Craignair Inn in the Clark Island community of St. George say that they don’t have big plans for changing how the inn had been operating when Joanne and Michael O’Shea were the resident innkeepers. At least not right away.
“I don’t feel we have to change anything huge—for the first year we want to keep things running as is,” says Lauren Soutiea, who with her husband Greg Soutiea took over ownership of the inn from the O’Sheas at the beginning of 2019. The staffing has stayed the same, work by local artists still hangs on the walls and the Soutieas continued offering the inn’s popular winter “burger night” fund raisers directly after moving in. But it is already clear that the young couple will be “branding” the inn in a new way just by being themselves.
Toward the end of this month, for example, members of Zoom Multisport, the largest triathlon team in the Boston region, will take over the Craignair for a weekend gathering. It was at Zoom that the Soutieas first met about 10 years ago and many of the friends they made there came to their wedding on Peaks Island in September 2016, participating with Greg and Lauren in the Lobsterman Triatholon the very morning of the big day. So it is very much on the Soutieas’ agenda to make sure that the Craignair is runner- and biker-friendly. “We will try to organize some runs for guests and have some running and biking routes available,” says Lauren. The couple has also already made a connection with Steve Cartwright, who manages Blueberry Cove Camp’s annual half marathon in August and hope to be able to offer discounted room rates for the event.
Likewise, in April a group called Wild but Well came to the inn to hold a health and wellness weekend, again through a personal connection with the Soutieas—this time through a “plant-based” restaurant near Boston.
“We’re both vegans,” says Greg. “So we eat no meat or animal byproducts.” Not surprisingly, the Soutieas are planning to expand the Craignair’s summer menu to include two or three vegan options. Greg notes that during this past winter’s burger nights the vegan option they added to that menu scored an encouraging number of takers and since then the couple has met a number of vegan people in this area who say they are eager to have another dining venue available to them.
The Soutieas’ decision to take up inn keeping came after a couple of years of exploring the idea. “We were working for other people and spending a lot of time away from each other,” Greg explains. “We like to travel and we always stay in local spots, in B & B’s especially.” A conversation with the proprietors of a B & B in Vermont where they were staying before a bicycle race made the idea of running an inn together very attractive. In addition, Greg had been working in property management and had a background in marketing and advertising while Lauren had a strong background in data analysis—and both had considerable experience in various aspects of the hospitality industry—so the prospect of owning and operating a small inn in a beautiful location seemed not only attractive but entirely feasible. They hoped to find a suitable property in either New England’s mountains or along its coast.
“We came to visit the Craignair Inn on the perfect summer day in August in time for a beautiful sunset,” Lauren says, smiling at the memory. When they discovered that the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) was raising money to purchase the majority of Clark Island and open it to the public as a preserve, the couple was confirmed in thinking that this was the right place to be at the right time. “We’re working with MCHT to see how we can help,” Greg notes with enthusiasm. The couple have toyed with calling the inn “Craignair Inn by the Sea,” highlighting their intention to make the most of the inn’s picturesque location.
The big question these early days of learning all the ropes at the Craignair, the Soutieas admit, is how the couple will balance inn keeping with their love for endurance sports, something Greg calls “a hobby like anything else.” These days his big passion is for ultra marathons—50-mile, 100-mile and 24-hour track events that can require a training schedule of about 100 miles a week. This year he ran the Boston Marathon twice—first from the finish line to the start before the official race and then from the start to the finish line during the official race. Lauren, meanwhile, who also qualified for this year’s Boston Marathon (a repeat Boston Marathon competitor, she had the bad luck of being among the 10,000 runners who qualified for the event this year but were prevented from competing because there were too many qualified runners to include them all) has been focused on training for Iron Man triathlons, which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon run raced in that order and without a break. “When we leave the house to go train,” Lauren explains, “Greg will run the entire time but I will run and swim and bike—we end up training a similar number of hours.”
But right now, the Soutieas say, running the inn is their priority, so they haven’t scheduled themselves for any endurance events this summer. Afterall, as anyone who has a seasonal business in St. George well knows, keeping up with the summer’s demands can easily be its own sort of marathon.—JW