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The full country experience at Windbreak Farm B&B

By Paul Knowles (first published in the Mitchell Advocate)

For Cathy Hutson, owning and operating a Bed & Breakfast was an ideal occupation. Her parents ran a hunting and fishing camp in northern Ontario, so “from a young age, I was used to the tourism industry.” She describes herself as an unusual combination – a homebody, and yet an entrepreneur – so a home-based business seemed the ideal answer.

 

Having established, therefore, that owning a B&B was the perfect solution, all it took was many years of hard work, patience, stamina, and a loyal spouse with a fine collection of power tools and woodworking skills.

Cathy and husband Bob have lived at Windbreak Farm for 28 years. That’s also home base for Bob Hutsson – the second business on the property is Windbreak Farms Wood Work (hence the power tools). Cathy says it took years to convert the circa 1910 farm house into a setting suitable for B&B guests, but they accomplished it, and opened Windbreak Farm Bed & Breakfast six years ago, in what Cathy describes as a “completely renovated home that was returned to its original style.”

They continue to put the attention and passion into the business that they invested in the renovation, and that enthusiasm continues to pay dividends.

In their first year, Windbreak welcomed about 40 guests. By 2016, that number had increased ten-fold, to about 400.

The figures may seem remarkable, but the most striking thing is that, from all those hundreds of guests, Cathy has never experienced a bad on-line review. In fact, she’s a bit embarrassed about it, because it might seem “phony”, but the reviews are the real deal – everyone seems to love Windbreak Farm.

So much so that a huge proportion of their business comes from repeat guests, including visitors who have been coming to Windbreak since that very first season.

Windbreak Farm B&B is exactly what the name says it is – a farmhouse B&B. It’s homey, and guests embrace that environment. There are three rental rooms, one with an ensuite bathroom and two which share a private bathroom.

Cathy and Bob are running their business in what might be seen as a challengingly competitive environment. There are more than 80 B&B’s in Stratford alone – the Shakespearean Festival city is only about 20 minutes from their location on Fullarton Township Line 26 – but Cathy points out that they offer something “unique – a rural farmhouse setting.” About 80 per cent of their visitors come from urban locations; only 60 per cent are here to attend plays at Stratford. Many of their guests are Americans, especially from Michigan and New York State.  They have also hosted guests from Australia, France, Holland, Germany, England and Ireland.

 For some, the B&B is their primary reason for the visit – the country setting, the spacious front porch, the comfortable home (guests have the run of the place), and the lavish, locally-sourced breakfasts where they are joined by their hostess and host for a leisurely morning meal.

But while life for the guests at Windbreak Farm may be relaxed and rural, Cathy has taken a focused and up-to-date approach to doing business, from the very beginning. As soon as she was operating, she joined organizations like the Stratford and Area Bed & Breakfast Association; B&B Canada; and Trip Advisor. She’s currently on the board of the Mitchell BIA, and has been very involved in the new Perth County Tourism initiative. Even before her B&B opened for business, Cathy had launched a website (www.windbreakfarm.ca), and she’s found that her promotion – and most importantly, the good word-of-mouth she’s engendered – has broadened the base of her clientele. In addition to the 60% of guests who attend the Stratford Festival, Windbreak Farm welcomes guests in the area for weddings, family events, cycling, country festivals like fairs, rodeos and plowing matches, and even bird watchers – who don’t have to stray very far, by the way. As we sat on the front porch, we watched barn swallows who have nested atop one of the porch pillars; hummingbirds and orioles; and a fascinating pair of nesting red-bellied woodpeckers. It’s not just humans who enjoy the hospitality of Windbreak Farm.

Although Windbreak Farm is located on a rural road in Fullarton Township, it’s actually ideally located to serve guests from a number of nearby communities, including Stratford, as well as St. Marys, Exeter, Mitchell and Seaforth, all about 20 minutes from their door.

Many guests tell Cathy that they return to Windbreak to enjoy the rural setting; for some, transplanted years ago from country to city, the B&B serves up a wonderful menu of nostalgia. Speaking of menus, Cathy is committed to providing a complete, rural experience. She and Bob grow their own vegetables, and source all their foodstuffs locally. And everything in the full country breakfast “is made from scratch”.

Six years in, does Cathy get tired? Sure. But does she still like it? “Yes. I do enjoy it. Most of all, I enjoy the people.” Her B&B is a fulfillment of her vision – she’s running a very successful business, and doing it at home; and she has managed to capture the essence of “the original B&B’s in Europe, where guests are treated as part of the family.”

When prospective guests call Windbreak Farm B&B, they don’t get a booking service; they get Cathy or Bob. Cathy says this is very important, so people understand exactly what they should expect; and so that Cathy also has a personal feel for the guests. “I already have a pretty good rapport with my guests before they’re in the door.” And judging from the universally positive reviews on line, that rapport continues all the way to their next stay at Windbreak Farm.