Visiting Sacramento? Come On Inn!
By Bryan Ochalla
Oh, if only the walls could talk at the gay-owned Inn and Spa at Parkside in Sacramento, Calif.
The stately bed and breakfast has played host to a slew of rich and famous folk since it opened five years ago, including the members of Green Day, Kelly Clarkson and comedian Judy Tenuta.
Politicians have made a few pit stops at the luxury retreat as well. According to co-owner Will Sawyer (who manages the sprawling estate with partner Bill Swenson), the state’s Republican party has visited twice. (There’s a doozy of a story behind one of those visits, which Sawyer may share if you’re an accommodating guest.)
“We’ve created quite a little business here out of nothing,” Sawyer says after reciting the impressive guest list.
The now-palatial inn may have been “nothing” when the former marketing director (Swenson) and nursing home rehabber (Sawyer) came upon it in 2003, but the pair have spent the ensuing years bringing it back to its former glory (it was owned by China's U.S. ambassador in the 1930s).
“Fifteen years ago you could get drugs and prostitutes in the parking lot across the street,” Sawyer says with a chuckle. Today, flourishing businesses and a renovated playground surround the Asian-themed inn.
Swenson and Sawyer didn’t set out to become owners of a luxury bed and breakfast. According to Sawyer, the pair took a trip up the coast (through Oregon and Washington) about six years ago to “help us figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.”
Although the couple planned on staying in hostels during the trek, they broke down in Seattle and switched over to a bed and breakfast instead. A light bulb went off above both men’s heads after hearing the establishment was up for sale.
“We thought, ‘maybe this is what we should do!’” Sawyer says.
The pair eschewed hostels in favor of bed and breakfasts on the journey home (which at the time was in Pleasant Hill, Calif.), which gave them a chance to bone up on their possible future field of employment.
A few months—and a week-long innkeeper course in New Orleans—later, Swenson and Sawyer were the proud owners of their current business and residence.
Business has been good to the part-time cowboys (the couple owns three horses and they spend much of their free time traveling the country competing in gay rodeos and barrel races)—where the inn once brought in $80,000 a year, it now brings in the same amount each month. That success has allowed the pair to hire a general manager, two cooks and three housekeepers—with more to come thanks to a recent expansion that added four more rooms and additional spa space.
In turn, their business has been good for the community. The once-dilapidated neighborhood surrounding the property now is thriving, thanks in no small part to the accomplishments of Sawyer and Swenson.
That’s evident in the clientele patronizing the Inn at Parkside, if nowhere else. “In front of our inn you can see Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses,” Sawyer says. “That’s quite a change!”
Sounds like a gig you’d never want to give up, right? Actually, as much as Sawyer and Swenson say they enjoy their new-found careers, they can’t help but once again look to the future. “We think we want to do something with horses, but we haven’t figured that out yet,” Sawyer says, adding he and Swenson likely will move to Texas to take part in the state’s abundance of gay rodeos.
(Outlook Magazine, Jun. 2007)
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