Four thirty-something friends-turned-business-partners have recently entered the scene in East Burke.

Cameron Giammalva, Mariah Grover, Caitlin Cash and Amanda Arling closed on the Village Inn of East Burke on April 2. A little over a week ago, they also closed on the property next door, which includes living space, a multi-bedroom apartment to be used as a rental, and a potential restaurant/brewery space.

Grover said Wednesday that she never really imagined being in this position, but things have just worked out.

The four met working at Backroads, a high-end “active travel” company, where they led multi-day cycling or hiking trips for groups of 10-25 people.

Giammalva and Grover, who moved up to the NEK first, are the Inn’s front-facing employees

And no, they’re not dating.

The two hope to involve the community more with happenings at the Village Inn.

Cash, who currently lives in Austin, Texas, will be joining the team in Burke imminently while also keeping her day job at Dell.

Arling is not planning on living in Burke, but knows the industry well and is an avid cyclist. She is the President of The Whaler’s Inn in Mystic, Conn., and has been named “Tourism’s Rising Star” by the Connecticut Board of Tourism.

“Arling will be up here as often as possible, both to ride the trails and pitch in on the ground,” said Giammalva on Friday. “She is in charge of some less exciting behind-the-scenes stuff…accounting, bookkeeping…”

Journey to Inn Ownership

For a time, the four friends were living out of suitcases all across their world.

Their positions with Backroads gave them a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry, which Giammalva and Grover say they enjoyed immensely.

“There was a crazy spectrum [of work],” said Giammalva. “I would be working with kitchen staff doing dishes one minute, and then the next minute I’d be having dinner with a brain surgeon.”

But sometimes, a desire for more long-term community reared its head.

COVID-19 provided an opportunity to reflect on that as the pandemic brought a temporary shutdown to Backroads’ programs.

Grover first came across a listing for the Village Inn by chance late last summer.

“Amanda [Arling] and I had ridden up here quite a bit,” she said. “We really loved the area and wanted to spend more time here.”

Grover texted her find separately to three friends…not even dreaming that they would end up purchasing the property together less than a year later.

Months later, in November, Grover and Giammalva were on a van trip with Backroads in Utah. They FaceTimed with Cash, who said she was looking to buy property in Vermont.

“What about that place I sent you guys?” asked Grover.

They looked up the listing and saw that the inn was still on the market and reduced in price. The more they learned, the more they fell for the property, which has: eight rooms of varying configurations, a hot tub, wood stove, greenhouse, spacious backyard, kitchen for guests, brook access and a bike room.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team couldn’t visit the property themselves. Instead, they sent two friends from Burlington on a mission to check the inn out as guests.

On Christmas Eve, an offer from the four friends was accepted. They closed on the property on April 2.

Vision For The Inn’s Future: More Community Connections?

Though Giammalva and Grover started hosting guests immediately — including one who was already at the property when the team assumed ownership — their first big weekend was a week ago and the bike room was chock-full.

Giammalva said he enjoys the diversity of the work: making beds, cleaning bathrooms, conversations with guests around a bonfire…and a lot more laundry than expected.

The two said they are excited about cooking and grilling with guests and that they are really drawn to the communal aspect of the business as well as the possibility of fostering relationships with the local community — especially with COVID likely loosening its grip.

The team bought the inn from long-time owners Chris and Karri Willy, who still live in the area and are now running their catering company full-time.

As the property did not have much in the way of living space for the team, they ended up purchasing the adjoining property, previously owned by George and Lorraine Willy. That space also includes a multi-bedroom apartment to be used as a rental and a restaurant space that boasts a large pizza and bread oven.

The team is hoping to partner with a chef or potential brewer.

Grover said that both families have been incredibly kind and helpful.

While the team has been making incremental style updates to the inn, they don’t plan to change too much.

“It’s clear from guests that the love and attention the Willys gave to the place radiates through it,” Giammalva said. “We want to maintain that level of camaraderie and orientation towards friends and family.”

“People care so much about this place,” said Grover. “Fortunately, we care a lot too.”

The team also wants to lean into the outdoor community and local community to facilitate more partnerships with local people and organizations.

A proposed Kingdom Trails Association welcome center is planned just across the street from the Inn, which Giammalva and Grover would be excited to see made a reality.

Grover says they are actively trying to meet people and solicit ideas on the space. In the future, they hope to offer bike skills clinics, yoga and more for guests and locals alike.

An upgraded website for the Village Inn will be up and running imminently, and the owners are working on restarting their social media presence.

Giammalva and Grover both like how small the Burke community is.

However, they said they are very cognizant, as outsiders, to tread lightly at first and work to add value to the community.

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