New Swift House Inn owners work to find footing in Middlebury

By Maggie Reynolds

Kim and Robinson moved to Middlebury from southern California in July and have been learning the ropes at the inn ever since. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Moving across the country to buy an inn and restaurant in a rural college town may seem like an unimaginably risky venture in a normal year, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. But for Matthew Robinson and Serena Kim, the new owners of Swift House Inn, it’s been a remarkably seamless transition. 

When Robinson and Kim decided they wanted to make a change from their life in Southern California, they began looking at inns in New England college towns. 

Their search for the ideal inn began a few years ago when Robinson hired a broker to find properties in the New England area. Robinson saw the Swift House Inn for the first time in May 2019. He returned to Middlebury two months later with Kim, and from there they became more serious about making the purchase. 

The Swift House Inn and Jessica’s Restaurant are made up of three historic buildings located on Stewart Lane in the heart of the town of Middlebury. The main house was built in 1814 and is named after John Swift, a former governor of Vermont. The other buildings are the Carriage House and Gate House, the former having been built by the Cartmell Family in 1906.

The inn contains 20 rooms, and it caters primarily to visitors of the college or travellers in town for bike tours, winter sports and vacations. The previous owners — Dan and Michele Brown — owned the property for 16 years.

Robinson and Kim made an offer in early February and flew out to Middlebury during the fateful week of March 9 — during which the pandemic became a reality in America — to negotiate the purchase. Despite the shutdown of the inn on March 16, Robinson and Kim continued negotiations through May and June.  

By July, they took a leap of faith and moved to Middlebury to continue working on the deal. They worked with the National Bank of Middlebury and the previous owners of the inn through September to close the deal and get to know its operations.

In addition to these relationships, they became well-acquainted with the inn’s staff. “Usually when an inn changes ownership, the staff hears the day the deal has been sealed,” Robinson said in an interview with The Campus. Robinson and Kim credit the smooth transition of ownership to the talented staff who have provided consistent service and hospitality for guests. 

The nationwide shutdown due to Covid-19 left many small businesses struggling to get sufficient business or being forced to close. But thanks to the steady and strong support of the local community, the inn and restaurant have been able to weather the storm of the pandemic. 

“Swift House was supported through Covid-19 by the community and parents of Middlebury students, predicated on the relationships the previous owners had built,” Kim told The Campus.

Since the state of Vermont began allowing people to visit hotels and restaurants again, the inn has been working hard to resourcefully adapt to restrictions. According to Robinson, the biggest challenge has been turning away visitors from New York City, Boston, and other areas when they have not complied with Vermont’s two-week quarantine rules.

As the weather gets colder, Robinson and Kim have plans to rearrange tables indoors and reopen the bar area. They also hope to extend hours on the weekends as the demand among students, parents and other affiliates of the college rises. “We love the students,” Kim said enthusiastically. She looks forward to deepening their relationship with the college when restrictions loosen up.

Robinson and Kim plan to find creative and practical ways to keep business at the inn and restaurant going safely through the winter. In addition, they are looking ahead to more long-term projects. “We hope to begin a fruit orchard and work with Middlebury College on a botanical garden on the parcel north of the inn,” Robinson said. Kim also highlighted the importance of producing and consuming food locally, as living through Covid-19 has shown.  

Though they have exciting plans for the inn, Robinson and Kim don’t plan on changing anything too quickly. Robinson believes new home — or inn — owners are most successful if they live in the building “as is” for at least six months. In the meantime, Robinson and Kim will take this time to secure their footing as members of the Middlebury community and adjust to being small business owners during an unpredictable pandemic.