From Psychologist to Hostess: A Bed and Breakfast Owner Creates a Kentucky Experience
Missy sits on the back patio of the Chateau Bourbon with a glass of bourbon.
One morning during her vacation in 2007, Missy Hillock awakened to a spectacular coastal view of Ireland at a bed and breakfast — and had a revelation. “I thought, ‘What a way to live,” Missy says. “To be able to host and make breakfast for people who are so delighted to be there. They get to share an experience of their town and their community in such an intimate way. That’s the day I decided that one day I would open my own bed and breakfast.”
Missy and her husband John saw their dream come to fruition in December 2015 when they opened Chateau Bourbon, a bed and breakfast in Norton Commons, where they also own a home. At the 5,000-square-foot inn, Missy uses her gift for Southern hospitality to create a bourbon-infused experience from the moment guests arrive. It all begins with a happy hour featuring a specialty bourbon cocktail and a made-from-scratch bourbon dessert.
The bourbon theme continues the next morning with a three-course breakfast starting with Chateau Bourbon’s signature homemade granola with “drunken” or bourbon-soaked cherries. The other two courses vary but might include chicken and waffles with a bourbon maple syrup and a bourbon coffee cake for dessert.
Chateau Bourbon features four bedrooms lovingly and cleverly decorated in a farmhouse chic décor with dashes of bourbon furnishings that manage to be casual and upscale at the same time. Missy calls it “French cottage meets Kentucky estate home.”
Missy’s husband John built a vanity which includes a soap dispenser and lighting fixture.
Missy’s husband, John, a firefighter, is also a gifted craftsman and has created one-of-a kind bourbon-themed furnishings such as a headboard made from the wood of bourbon barrels, known as bourbon staves. Missy also re-purposed or refinished 27 pieces of furniture that were in her family, such as a dining room buffet in the living room that they distressed and reinvented as the tasting bar adorned with bottles of bourbon.
Missy, who has a Ph.D. and formerly worked as a cognitive and development psychologist, says she and her husband had initially conceptualized an inn as their retirement plan, but decided to move up their timetable about 20 years.
“Things at my job were changing with my clients, and I felt it was more impersonal and less people-centered,” Missy says. “I was starting to feel that it didn’t work for me anymore. We also started seeing our friends and neighbors opening businesses in Norton Commons, like boutiques and coffee shops.”
One sleepless night, Missy couldn’t stop thinking about opening a bed and breakfast, so she got up and spent all night drafting a business plan. That very same week, Missy went to her key stakeholders to vet her plan.
“I took my idea to my husband, my mother, my home builder and the Norton Commons office, and everyone loved the plan,” she says. Missy, who says she’s an analyzer and planner, did her homework, crunched the numbers, and was convinced she had a viable plan.
“One thing I’m really glad I did was I called innkeepers who owned different kinds of places and interviewed them, asking them a million questions.” Missy also took innkeeper training from the state of Kentucky and networked with others in hospitality, fellow Norton Commons business owners, the city of Louisville, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as other innkeepers.
“In our two and a half years open, we’ve seen incredible success,” Missy says. “Part of that is I embedded myself in the fabric of the city and state. People had no choice but to at least know who we were.” Chateau Bourbon also hosts dozens of events onsite such as baby or wedding showers and graduation parties.
While it may not seem like running a bed and breakfast is a natural career progression for a psychologist, Missy explains there are many parallels in building relationships with people.
“I went into psychology in the first place because I’m a good communicator, observant of others, and can read people well,” Missy says. “That certainly all plays a major role in what I do now.” In fact, Missy says sometimes she has conversations with guests who joke, ‘Now I feel like I need to pay you for therapy.’ “I had a regular guest who recently opened up about the death of his ex-wife, something obviously important for him,” Missy says. “I was thankful to be able to offer that to him and to listen.”
For Missy, this intimacy with her guests is all about creating an ambience of Southern hospitality.
“When people come here, they are looking for more than a bed to sleep in. The first innkeeper conference I attended reminded me that the one thing you have at your place that nobody else has is you. It starts with the host. You have to exude what you want the experience to be,” Missy says.
Missy writes the names of her guests on a chalkboard located in the entryway of the bed and breakfast.
“The first thing they see is me with a big warm smile, greeting them by name,” Missy says. “They see their name on the chalkboard greeting. So many people stop and take a picture of that because it’s warm and inviting for people.”
Missy says many guests sit on the front porch, and Norton Commons neighbors walking by strike up conversations with the visitors. “The neighborhood is doing its part to keep the Southern hospitality alive by taking an interest in people,” she says.
A pillar of Southern hospitality historically has been about great Southern food. Missy says her guests are appreciative of her fresh, home-cooked meals and cocktails with simple ingredients and no mixers. “In today’s world, this is not commonplace anymore. When my mom was raised, there was no such thing as a box mix and nobody did take out food,” she says.
Missy recently took part in a national baking competition show filmed at Chateau Bourbon that will air this fall on television. She says she is asked weekly about making a cookbook and does see that at some point in her future.
In fact, Missy says cooking for guests is what she loves most about her job. “Feeding people is a very intimate experience. There’s this joy I get when people eat my food and fall in love with it; it’s instant gratification. For me, it’s about feeding your stomach and your heart, too.”
5 Ways to Share Southern Hospitality
- Greet others with a smile. Nothing says Southern hospitality like a big grin.
- Provide a cozy, welcoming space for visiting. A front porch swing and a fuzzy blanket will win anyone over.
- Offer food. Home cooking is universally appreciated and best shared with others.
- Crack open the bottle of bourbon. This is where small talk ends and great storytelling begins.
- End the visit with a hug. Spread the love and let people know you truly enjoyed their company.