(David is third from left; his wife Donna, at far left; his cousin/business partner Frank and Frank's wife, also Donna, round out the photo.) Q: How did Cedar House on Sound come to be?
A: Our cousin Frank Scarola started Scarola Vineyards. He purchased the run down barn planning on converting it into a multi family home, but learned that due to zoning restrictions that wouldn’t work.
Donna and I were in Orlando at the time, and our daughter Livia was just born. Though we loved what we did, it involved a lot of global travel which was not conducive to raising a baby. We started scoping property in Asheville to maybe do a B&B, and once my cousin realized we were entertaining a move, he invited us to come check the North Fork out.
Frank knew that Donna and I had hospitality backgrounds and at that time we were both sales managers for a wine distribution company, so being business partners was a perfect fit.
That was in October 2009; by New Year’s Eve I had dropped off my wife and one year old daughter here, went back, closed on the house, we both resigned our jobs, and put all our chips into this new and exciting adventure.
Q: How’s it worked out?
A: It’s been fantastic. We opened in June 2010 after months of crazy reno with opened with three guest rooms; we didn’t finish our back half until December 2010. Five years later we’ve been blessed with achieving a significant part of our goal: a true guest experience where people feel a part of the family. Repeat business has been a key to our success.
Q: Every B&B is unique; what sets the Cedar House on Sound apart?
A: We tout with pride that we’re ‘Not your Grandma’s B&B’ .
We have no doilies, no lace. Rustic chic is our décor. Our five guest rooms have reclaimed wood trim, wrought iron beds; private baths. It’s warm and inviting. Everybody’s got the tv, wifi, blue tooth radio; modern but rustic. New fixtures set in reclaimed wood.
Our common space has a big, open feel. Large flat screen tvs, leather sofas, billiards table, and the vineyard lounge, where our guests get to sample Scarola Vineyards wine.
One of the uniquenesses we offer is that with five rooms and so much common space, our off season guests tend to be groups, kind of a vacation rental with hosts. People come as guests and leave as our friends, and they come back year after year.
We really live ‘from our family to yours.’ We have the space so you have your own space. But we’re a young couple with small kids. We’re an active place.
We have created an environment where you have a place to hang out once you have returned from dinner. If you’re looking to go to bed at 8 pm, we might not be the place for you.
Q: The North Fork is a long way from Orlando; how easy has the adjustment been?
A: Very smooth; we’re not native Floridians. Donna’s originally from Queens, and I’m from upstate New York—really, Northern NY, you could see Canada out the window—so the North Fork isn’t that foreign to us.
When I was a kid, we had our own farm stand. I was the kid who couldn’t go out on Saturday morning until I’d picked sweet corn for the stand. We didn’t have the agritourism there that we have here, but overall life wasn’t that different.
Donna, even though she was from Queens, also understands. Her parents came from Italy, and in spite of growing up on a corner lot she had no yard because every inch was converted to garden, fresh vegetables, herbs etc. The garage or basement always smelled like wine because that’s where the grapes were fermenting.
There is a charm to the North Fork, a small town feel that is integral to preserving our agricultural integrity that makes it feel like home. Often when you travel, penetrating small communities to feel at home is quite difficult. Here people are actually quite welcoming. The idea of being a community neighbor not just as a person but as a business has been very comforting and is part of our success.
Q: You mentioned you and Donna have a hospitality industry background; what did you do before you opened Cedar House on Sound?
A: We went to school for hospitality management at FIU in Miami; that’s where we met. Right out of college we both worked for major hotel chains, major restaurant chains and independents, and then we both worked for beverage wholesalers/distributers. So we’ve kind of had the luxury and pleasure of servicing the public from many different aspects—lodging, dining, sales.
Q: B&Bs are such idiosyncratic places, how much of what you learned in the national chains was useful?
A: Actually, a lot of it. The major chains were great training right out of college. The chains have very intensive management training for their very specific systems, that involve every aspect of the business. Even though I was management, I spent three days washing dishes, and the head dishwasher had to sign off on my work. The point was, how could you manage someone without understanding their job?
That was humbling coming out of college, but it was really fabulous training. It’s an invaluable experience. And in the B&B world, you’re everything—I am housekeeping too.
I understand why people dislike chains, but the need for consistency drives good systems. When we started our B&B, we had no interest in replicating the genericness of the chain experirence, but the business lessons were really useful.
Q: If there was one lesson you take from that experience, what is it?
A: Details. Details are what matter. Details, to me, complete a guest experience; little things matter.
For example, I take real pride in being a concierge. From helping my guests plan their day—which wineries, beaches they’re going to see, where they’re going to have lunch or dinner—and I’m happy to make those reservations for them.
A lot of people come out here and they know the usual suspects. It’s my job to introduce them to the hidden gems. The great little beach, the cool shop off the beaten path, the eatery not everyone knows. Or I’ll tag the known places, saying ‘when you go in be sure to say hi to [the owner] from me, tell them I sent you.’ People enjoy making the connection.
Q: You mentioned Cedar House on Sound got started because your cousin got into the wine industry with his own vineyard. How is that reflected in the Cedar House on Sound experience?
A: Well, people get to walk through the vineyard, see the grapes, taste the wine, ask questions. But it’s more than that: Not only do we have a small family vineyard, but we’re also big on wine education.
Both of us coming from a wine background, we’re able to help people relax and demystify wine some. We ask people about their comfort level, their palate level, their knowledge level, and we tailor their experience to that. That’s part of the concierge experience.
Q: Does Cedar House on Sound have a signature dish? And why is it ‘Cedar House’, anyway?
A: All the trim around the whole house is the original cedar from the old barn roof. While I don’t notice it much anymore, some guests tell me they can smell the cedar & they love it. And of course the outside of the house is wrapped in cedar.
The signature Cedar House dish is the Cedar House loaded potato. It pays homage to the property history, which back in the day was a potato packaging barn. It’s stuffed with fresh parsley, crushed red pepper, ground sausage, and a poached egg on top. So it’s a sausage, egg, cheese stuffed potato.
It’s a solid base for tasting wine on the North Fork.
Q: Sounds filling & delicious. Anything else people should know?
A: Yes. We’re expanding our role as concierge of the North Fork beyond the Cedar House. Soon we’re opening another location called the Bay Breeze Inn in South Jamesport. It’s eight rooms, and just as Cedar House is vineyard rustic, people will get a sense of coastal rustic at the new Bay Breeze. It’s a true inn, not a B&B, and like Cedar House will also be open year round.
Our friend Lee will be the full time, on site Innkeeper, but I and Donna will also be splitting our time there.