Rogue's Harbor Inn

After 24 years as the owner-operator of Lansing's historic Rogue's Harbor Inn Eileen Stout sold the property about three years ago to a young couple.  They made a go of it for a while, but then closed the inn, the bar, and the restaurant.  Lansing people mourned the closing of the prominent local landmark that, in 2009 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  That seemed to be the end of a local destination, until it reopened as an inn the last weekend in June.  Stout, who has been working as a jeweler since she sold the property, is back.  The Once and Future Innkeeper plans big changes to support the core inn business.

"There was a tremendous amount for me to get ready for that," she says.  "I'm still doing things.  It was a little bit neglected, so a lot of the rooms needed a little help, and I converted this space (the downstairs lounge) from a dining room to a lobby.  And there's still more work to be done.  Lots of scrubbing, lots of painting, lots of fixing."

Stout sold the inn because the wanted to train as a jeweler.  After over two decades of working around the clock running the inn and the restaurant, she wanted a schedule that would mean more time with her husband and daughter that would allow her to focus on jewelry.  She tried to do it while running the restaurant, but there wasn't enough time to do everything.  At that time there was a restaurant in the southern end of the inn, a bar at the northern end, and an events space in the third floor ballroom, plus her own beer brewery, Stout Hearted Brewing in the small building she owns next to the inn.

So she sold the inn in 2016.  The new owners lived upstairs in the ballroom while trying to make a go of the bar, restaurant, and the rooms upstairs.  But for a number of reasons, Stout says it didn't work out for the couple who bought it.  She held the mortgage, so, like any bank when a property owner defaults, the inn reverted to her, and she was left with the task of disposing of the property. 

Despite having moved on to other things, Stout decided to keep it.  She would reopen the inn, but with major changes that would dovetail with her plans for a jewelry business.

"I was the bank," she says. "They decided they didn't want to do it any more, so the 'bank' got stuck with it.  Which was OK.  It's not what I planned, but I'm going to make it work for being a jeweler and keeping the Rogue's Harbor alive and taken care of and loved the way it deserves."

Eileen StoutThe Once and Future innkeeper, Eileen Stout, in the downstairs lounge

Since she sold the inn she has been working with Fared Abdulky, a master goldsmith with over 50 years experience.  Her new plan accommodates her wish to continue working  for him, while making the time to spend with her family.  She has hired Lansing High School seniors to help run the inn,make the breakfasts, and keep the rooms clean and in good shape.  She has been spending a lot of time bringing the place up to her standard or quality, and has hired Lansing graduate Max Mackenzie as the overnight innkeeper.

"Everyone has said wonderful things about him, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to have him come in as the overnight innkeeper," Stout says. "He's here during the overnight period in case of emergency, and he does work a couple of front desk shifts.  But there will still be evening hours for me to check in guests, but it's not as rigorous as the restaurant."

Stage one of her plan was getting the rooms ready.  She had painstakingly redecorated each of the nine rooms the first time she owned the property, but there was much to do before the inn was ready for guests at the end of June.  After only one month she has her first 'sold out' weekend this weekend, thanks, in part, to listing the rooms on Expedia.

When you walk in the new focus on the inn business is obvious.  What used to be a dining room is now a sitting area for lodgers, in the style of lounges in a European inns.  While she has given in to demand for TVs in the rooms, Stout says the common spaces are for guests to sit and engage with each other.  The rooms are immaculate, off of hallways lined with historic drawings, notices, and photographs.  Stout refers to the property as both an inn and a Bed and breakfast, but only because the latter is a term guests are familiar with.

"I call it an inn, but some people don't know what that means so I'm happy enough to call it a Bed and Breakfast," she explains. "The difference is that at a Bed and breakfast the common areas are actually the owner's home. At an inn the common areas are not the owner's home, so it's a little more private, I think."

Rogue's Harbor RoomEach of the nine rooms has a unique design

There are nine rooms available, some with double beds, and the inn's Web site says a few of those rooms are pet-friendly.  The ballroom has been re-purposed as a breakfast space, with tables from the old restaurant, plus lounge chairs.  The ballroom is available for guests to rent for events such as family reunions, but Stout does not plan to hold special events as she did when she opened the ballroom to the public in 2010.  Breakfast is cooked with fresh local ingredients by Stout and her staff.

"I'm still on my local sourcing bandwagon, and always will be, so I locally source as much as I can... breads and eggs and cheeses and herbs and berries -- anything I can get my hands on," Stout says. "We offer cheddar-herbed scrambles eggs with home fries.  We have vanilla French toast with wild berries."

Rogue's Harbor BallroomThe historic ballroom on the third floor has been repurposed as a breakfast room with tables and casual seating areas

What about the restaurant and the bar and the brewery? A new restaurant will be opened by someone new in the old bar space.  Stout plans to move the kitchen from the old restaurant to the new one.  She is not revealing much except to say she already has someone who wants to operate a restaurant there.

"I have that person, but I'm not ready to tell the world who it is yet," she says. "It's a restaurant person who is excellent.  Everyone will be very happy."

The old restaurant is closed now, but when Abdulky retires, she plans to convert kitchen space from the old restaurant to her own jewelry studio, with the main dining room to be used as a sales gallery.  That will be more space than she will need for the jewelry business, so she says she hopes to find a couple of other local artists to go in on the gallery with her.

As for Stout Hearted brewing, that  will not be coming back, although the logo will remain as the symbol of the new Stout Hearted Jewelry business.  Currently the brewery building is occupied by Salt Point Brewery, but that business just purchased land and plans to build a new, larger brewery/restaurant off of Louise Bement Lane on town center land.  When they move out Stout says she hopes to find another brewer to take over the space.

"Salt Point is moving out, because they are building a new fabulous place that you can almost see from here," she says. "I'll be looking for another brewer or distiller to take over that location.  The more that's around, the better. You almost have a little beer trail or a distillery trail, and it's a good starting space in what's obviously a proven location."

Since the 'Central Exchange Hotel' was first built in 1830 it has undergone various changes, has hosted a number of prominent historic figures, and is even thought to have been a stop on the 'Underground Railroad' that was a network of secret safe houses and specific routes used to transport African-American slaves to free states and Canada.  The name Rogue's Harbor may have come from the quality of guests during low points in its history, including during Prohibition when you could get hooch if you knew the secret phrase (it had to do with saying yes to a parrot who asked patrons is they wanted a cold cup of iced tea).  When the inn first opened you could get a room for 50 cents (supper and horses were extra).  Today rooms range between $109 and $189, depending on the room and day of the week.

Stout says she has no plans to sell the inn again, and she is happy to be back.  Within a couple of years she says every inch of the inn will be used, between outsourcing a restaurateur and brewery, and partnering with local artists.

"It's not what I planned, but yes," she says. "I love this place, always have.  I really wanted to try something new, but now I think I can make it work with my 'something new' so I'm staying."