Jean Bonnet Inn & Tavern

When the historic Jean Bonnet Inn and Tavern in Bedford went up for sale, Melissa and Shannon Jacobs were determined to purchase the struggling business and make it a success. Their efforts to acquire financing to do so, however, met with little hospitality from commercial lenders.

While tourism is one of Pennsylvania's top two business sectors, commercial lenders tend to focus their efforts elsewhere. With the help of a skilled coach, Jeff Boldizar, a senior business consultant at the Saint Francis University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Jacobs were able to construct a first-rate business plan. There were aspects of the costs of running a business that the experienced consultant ensured they considered to ensure reserves for their first few years. “The banker told me that in twenty years of commercial lending he had never seen such a good business plan,” said Melissa Jacobs.

Even though the bank ultimately rejected the Jacobs' application, Boldizar was able to connect the couple with the Progress Fund, a regional non-profit lender that focuses on the tourism industry, to obtain the critical financing they needed. The Jacobs became the owners of the Jean Bonnet Tavern and Inn in November 1999. The couple worked everyday during the first two grueling years of operations, forgoing health insurance for themselves and their children, and occasionally taking out home equity loans to make payroll. Fortunately they were rich in ideas, energy and determination.

The Jacobs have taken care to preserve the inn's traditional features and historic roots. They promote the 18th century inn's stories, such as the fact that it was a meeting place for farmers plotting the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, to create a distinctive local profile. A 200-year old log cabin, relocated from the woods in Fayette County, has recently been added to house a new retail shop. The couple also advocates Pennsylvania craft brewing and has introduced traditionally brewed beers at the tavern. Passing tourists have taken notice: Jean Bonnet is frequently mentioned in beer blogs and the food and ambiance also receive high marks.

In its first year under the Jacobs' ownership, sales increased from $400,000 to $600,000. Sales later continued to double that figure to $1.3 million. “We way exceeded our original projections,” said Melissa Jacobs, who was named one of Pennsylvania's top 50 business women in 2004 and became president of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce. The inn's staff increased to 50 from 13 during the startup period.

Previously reluctant bankers are courting Melissa and Shannon Jacobs.

“We're thrilled with our success, and of course we didn't do it alone,” said Melissa Jacobs. She credits a “terrific staff,” thorough planning thanks to Jeff Boldizar and the St. Francis SBDC, and the Progress Fund for supplying critical financing. “We have a great business because we had a great business plan.”