How Jen and Dan do it all, 4 years later

Get to know Red Hot Best Lamplighter B&B of Ludington

How does a busy innkeeping couple manage to serve up to 10 guests a day, to amass 385 five-star reviews, and to earn a 2021 Red Hot Best #1 award for their Lamplighter B&B of Ludington — all while being great parents to two “incredibly active” boys, ages five and 22 months?

We interviewed Jen Hinderer not long after MyNorth Media and Traverse magazine named Lamplighter B&B of Ludington as the occupant of the top spot for lodging in its region in the 2021 Red Hot Best contest. She said she and her husband Dan are very grateful for the support of fans who voted for their inn and for the grandparents, sitters and others who help keep them, the children, and the B&B humming.

Dan and Jen Hinderer and their sons at the beach on an outing away from Lamplighter B&B of Ludington
Dan and Jen Hinderer at their sons at the beach.

Coming on the eve of the couple’s fourth anniversary of owning and operating the five-guest room bed and breakfast, the Red Hot Best honor seemed like another validation of their decision to ditch their corporate jobs and buy an inn.

Highlights of our interview with Jen Hinderer:

Lamplighter B&B of Ludington is a getaway place for couples, and your family lives on site, and yet children as young as yours can’t possibly know the meaning of “shush.” How do you manage it all?

We DON’T manage it all! We’ve learned to ask for help and to acknowledge that in order to be successful, we must rely on support, which doesn’t always come in a physical form. We rely on our faith to guide and carry us.

Jacob and Ezra are incredibly active. You can tell them only so many times not to run laps around the kitchen table, and we do want them to have the opportunity to do normal kid stuff. At the same time, we offer guests respite in a peaceful setting. The two don’t always mesh well, especially in the busy summer months, so we rely heavily on help from sitters and grandparents, who can play, adventure with, and occupy the boys during breakfast time and check-ins.

Honestly, we’re like any other family with two working parents — schedules, planning in advance (when possible), and calling in support are what keeps things moving along and everyone (mostly) sane and happy.

Between you and Dan, who does what?

Dan and I are a definitely a team, and the inn runs best when we’re working alongside one another.  We have found our areas of expertise.

Dan accomplishes more between breakfast and lunch than most people can do in a day.  Truly!  He handles all indoor and outdoor maintenance, landscaping, and day-to-day housekeeping. He is our sous chef, host, server, shopper. He welcomes guests, is active in several local organizations and in church, serves on a couple of boards, and is just a phenomenal husband and dad.

Strawberry shortcake waffles plus bacon-wrapped eggs topped with micro greens
Breakfast at Lamplighter B&B of Ludington might include sweet and savory dishes. Here, strawberry shortcake waffles and bacon-wrapped eggs with micro greens.

I am the chief marketer, responsible for our online presence (website, booking software, social platforms, member websites), and the manager of finances and day-to-day office operations, such as answering phones, taking reservations, and arranging guests’ special requests. I’m also the baker, cook, and manager of kitchen operations. I, too, welcome guests, participate in several local organizations and church, and serve on a couple of boards, not to mention my role as wrangler of small children.

What are the most typical comments guests make about the experience of staying at Lamplighter?

In reviews, we get a lot of compliments on the atmosphere here, comments such as “welcoming,” “home-like,” and “charming.” Our breakfasts, cleanliness, and attention to detail also get mentioned frequently.

We know we’re delivering the type of hospitality we’re aiming for when we read comments like “It was the perfect combination of elegance and casual comfort” or “The owners add a lot of homey touches to make your stay easier (free bottles of water, fridge access, beach towels & chairs…).”

At the end of a long day, to read “Jen should have her own food channel show, she is one heck of a cook!” — that’s the kind of gift that makes us jump up next morning to do it all again.

Peanut butter and chocolate ganache sandwich cookies as served at Lamplighter B&B of Ludington
What’s a five-star B&B without a delightful treat? Here are peanut butter and chocolate ganache sandwich cookies, as served at Lamplighter B&B of Ludington.

That makes me hungry. What is a typical breakfast at Lamplighter B&B of Ludington?

We cook from scratch, we let the seasons guide our menu, and we do everything possible to source locally. For example, for everything from apples to bacon to eggs to zucchini, we rely on nearby producers such as Merten Farms, Sanders Meats, Anchorline Farms, and Christofferson Farms. We brew our coffee from beans roasted locally by Dark Water Coffee Roasters. Anchorline Farms is raising a pig for us. It will be processed by Sanders Meats and appear on the breakfast tables here next year.

Using fresh-picked blueberries delivered by a guest, today we featured blueberry buttermilk waffles with homemade blueberry sauce, plus bacon-wrapped eggs, topped with herbs from our garden and fresh fruit. The first course was our vanilla parfait with house-made granola and fresh berry sauce.

Another guest favorite this time of year is our savory parmesan French toast with olive oil-poached eggs, topped with herbs from the garden. Alongside, we might serve a salad of arugula and fresh baby greens with shaved parmesan, slivered almonds and our house-made lemon vinaigrette.  Plates are clean every time.

The Carpenter Room at Lamplighter B&B of Ludington
Like all the guest rooms, the Carpenter Room has had a refresh, including bedding, paint colors, and furnishings.

What changes have you made to the rooms and property since acquiring it four years ago?

The Lamplighter has operated as a bed and breakfast for nearly 30 years. The bones of the home were in amazing shape, so our focus has been mainly on cosmetic improvements. We were really blessed to acquire the inn fully furnished, but we’ve replaced some pieces with family heirlooms or with new antiques we’ve collected along the way.

In 2022, we hope to renovate and add a sixth suite. It will be an ADA-compliant suite on the first-floor, with a private, wheelchair-accessible entrance.

You’ve also added some additional services guests can choose to enhance their stay.

Yes. Our in-house massages are going really well. Our cheese boards and charcuterie packages, which can be ordered at time of booking or before arrival, are very popular. We’re working on new winter packages, in addition to continuing our offer of chef-catered dinners in front of the fire.

One of the smaller tables where breakfast is now served, in front of the fireplace.
During the pandemic, out went the big dining table where all guests had breakfast. In came smaller tables, which turned out to be preferred by guests.

You’ve always operated your B&B to the high standards of safety and cleanliness required of MBBA member inns, but during the Covid-19 pandemic you made additional changes to follow CDC guidelines. Are there any changes you made in 2020 that now have become part of your normal operations?

We used to seat our guests around a very large dining room table for breakfast. We did away with that. We now have multiple tables in the dining room, parlor and library, plus outdoors on the deck and in the gazebo when the weather cooperates. Guests seem much more comfortable dining separately, and yet couples can still converse with one another if they wish.

We will now always have hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes out and available to guests. They appreciated it, and we did, too.

You’ve started selling candles in your gift gallery, but to you and Dan, they’re not just candles. How is this initiative being received?

Very well! And yes, we have a small gift gallery located in a pie safe that I inherited from my great-grandmother. It sat on the kitchen porch of our family’s Illinois homestead for three decades, until 1961. Its worn shelves gave thousands of pies a place to cool and rest before being served to guests passing through the home as well as those she served at community dinners. Now, it’s located in our entry space, in another setting dedicated to welcoming all in the truest form of hospitality. Instead of pies, it now houses gifts and sweet takeaways for guests to purchase.

In a glass container, candles made for Lamplighter B&B.
The Hinderers worked with a Ludington candle maker to create this candle, whose scent combines notes of oak moss, amber, and sage. Proceeds from the sale of the candles will go to help fight human trafficking.

We love to support local businesses, so we offer hand-poured candles made for us and goat milk soaps (also used in our rooms) from Ludington artisans. We also offer Lamplighter mugs from Sunset Hill Stoneware, which are made just across Lake Michigan, in Wisconsin.

The products sells themselves, but once guests learn that we donate the proceeds to local tea shop HumaniTea to invest in the fight against human trafficking, they happily support the cause.

In the warmer months, Ludington is a magnet for travelers because of its 28 miles of protected Lake Michigan shoreline, beaches, lighthouses, trails, fairs, festivals, fishing opportunities, and proximity to scenic M-22, but what brings your guests to town during the rest of the year?

It’s true that summer is our peak time. This summer, we’ve had multiple guests in June and July who chose our B&B as their home base for exploring much of Northwest Michigan, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

In the colder months, Ludington State Park and other area trails offer opportunities for active outdoor pursuits such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking. Lake Michigan is always in season for photographers. Craft beer fans come to town to check out our local breweries as well as for January’s large outdoor beer festival. With our location under two hours from Traverse City, we also attract couples for cozy getaways and groups of friends.

Learn more about Ludington’s Lamplighter Bed and Breakfast.