How to mix business and pleasure, Texas-style.

May 23, 2017 10:23 am

A dream business brought together family, football, and new friends in the heart of Texas.

New businesses are full of surprises. But getting a chance to discover shared life-long connections with customers is not usually among the expected results. It turns out that giving guests a comfortable—and historic—place to sleep near their beloved alma mater probably encourages such affinity.

“There’s a tremendous amount of serendipitous good times; we had no clue that it would be that much fun,” Robert Barbier says about the bed-and-breakfast he opened in 2016 with his wife, Denise.

The six-bedroom, seven-bath, 132-year old house in historic Bryan, Texas, sits just six blocks from the weekend shuttle to Texas A&M University—and its 102,000-seat football stadium.

So far, guests have included a family with whom, through the course of casual conversation, Barbier discovered shared experiences in junior high school, college, the public-health sector in Houston, and shared music interests—among other connections.

“The surprise has been the deeper connections that we have with folks who come stay with us as it relates to the history of the school,” Barbier says. “Many of our guests are Aggies. Some of them are our age—some a little older, some a little younger—but they all have stories that we can relate to really well.”

The Barbiers have found the B&B is on a small enough scale that they can be aware of everything that goes on, be attentive to guests who stay there, and visit with them or leave them alone, whichever they prefer.

The bed-and-breakfast, known as the Milton Parker Home, is the first such business that either Barbier or his wife have operated.

The Barbiers were living in Louisville, Ky., when the management of Robert Barbier’s hospital was outsourced. So they took it as an opportunity to find a place near family—both of their adult children went to A&M eight years earlier and settled in that region with their own families.

“It covered enough of our family bases, and we like being outside,” Barbier says about the warmer Texas climate.

They had previously owned and renovated older homes, so they were comfortable with taking on such requirements for the historic bed-and-breakfast. “And it’s also a gorgeous four-acre property within walking distance of the historic downtown Bryan full of restaurants and shops,” Barbier says.

After completing renovations last summer, the Barbiers began accepting guests in September 2016—in time for the college football season. In the offseason, the new business owners plan to network with visitors to the rapidly expanding A&M campus and a local community college.

After the business was up and running, Robert Barbier took a role as a senior associate director at the Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, Ky., and started commuting back to help with guests on the weekends.

It may sound hectic, but Barbier views the yardwork, housecleaning, laundry, and cooking as something they’d do anyway. So why not do it on a slightly larger scale?

“My wife is an awesome cook, and she lets me clean up, so it works well,” Barbier says.

If the B&B adds business during the week, they will probably bring on more help, Barbier said.

“For now, it is a comfortable pace,” Barbier says. “We could be busier, but part of that is just getting used to doing the business for a while. And we can always turn off the reservation system if we want to take a break or vacation.”

Budding B&B entrepreneurs should know that such businesses are best run by people persons.

“Some folks would rather not engage, but we like people,” Barbier says. “We have such nice stories to tell about this whole property, the area, and the history; for us, it’s like coming home.”

The 5,000-square-foot grand home with seven fireplaces was designed by Mollie and Milton Parker in 1885 as their “town house” for their eight children. And that history comes with a price.

“Be prepared to invest some money if you buy an old property like we did,” Barbier says.

But the investments in modernizing and maintaining the historic property were an act of love for the Barbiers, who have enjoyed staying at historic B&Bs around the country.

“The goal was to have a place that was a more comfortable alternative to the typical hotel setting—whether you’re sitting in the parlor, relaxing on the porch, eating breakfast, or coming and going—while also having all of the upscale conveniences,” Barbier says.

Guests also have reserved the live-oak -shaded property for weddings, showers, and birthdays.

Next steps for the Barbiers include deciding on a plan for the detached 1,400-square-foot cottage behind the house, which was originally its kitchen. They’re also getting ready for the next football season.

“We hope to be active for quite some time, and this will be a good 10- or 15-year-adventure for us,” Barbier says. “So having that kind of control while still being a business owner doing the kinds of things we enjoy seems like the right package for us.”


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