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New owners to reopen restaurant at Echo Mountain Inn in Laurel Park

New owners Bud and Jan Bonnema and chef Tom Makowski plan to open the Bistro at the inn next month. New owners Bud and Jan Bonnema and chef Tom Makowski plan to open the Bistro at the inn next month.

When Bud and Jan Bonnema left their Minnesota roots a few years ago, they found the pace a little too slow.

 

“We moved to Florida to kind of retire,” he said. “Like most people, that was too boring. We weren’t active in things. I had joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary and like most military experience it’s sit around and wait and I got sick of that.”
If retirement was too leisurely, the couple fixed the problem — big time. When they bought the 25-room Echo Mountain Inn a year ago for $1.2 million, they didn’t plan to manage it.
“The people that were hired to run this place, a month after we came, all quit,” he said. “We said, ‘Well, we’ll run it,’ so it was flying by the seat of our parents. The lady at the front desk helped us, she’d been in the hotel business for 20-some years.”
When winter came, business slowed down and Bud and Jan became comfortable running the place, then added son Travis and his wife, Becky, to help manage the inn. The past year has been filled with on-the-job training and plenty of renovations. They had the entire outside repainted, replaced freezers, ovens and ranges in the kitchen, replace a generator and a lot of the plumbing and bought new furniture. He considered closing the pool because people told him no one used it.
“We found a lake and now we’re saving about $1,000 a month on the water bill,” he said. “It gets used so much more than we were told. It gets used a lot.”
Bonnema was a police officer in Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis, which was wracked by weeks of protest after the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“Part of you wants to be there, to see what good you can do, and part of you wants to be as far away as you can.”


Built in 1896 as a summer home

The Bonnemas hung an exhibit in the library documenting every owner of the property, starting with the Jessie and John H. Patterson, a well-to-do couple from Florida who built a summer home on Echo Mountain “to escape the heat and the mosquitos.” Seven owners and many additions and renovations followed. The Bonnemas bought the property from Becky and Chester Kylstra, who made part of it a Christian healing center and retreat called Restoring the Foundation.
During an open house on Sunday, local people gushed over the news that the Bonnemas plan to reopen the restaurant, a popular dining destination that has not operated for lunch and supper for 15 years or so.
“When I tell people that we had just moved to North Carolina and we own the Echo Mountain Inn, they say, ‘That’s where that supper club was. We used to eat there all the time. We loved it.’ More than anything, that’s a comment I hear,” he said.
Since they’re not restaurateurs, Bud and Jan hired an expert with experience. Tom Makowski, 29, is executive chef for the Charleston airport, where he manages 12 restaurants and around 200 employees. Makowski, who served up a sumptuous feast of fruit and hors d’oeuvres on Sunday afternoon, said he plans to keep both jobs. The bistro, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, will specialize in Low Country and American cuisine and serve beer and wine. Breakfast has been a staple at the Echo Mountain Inn for a long time. The menu is bacon and eggs, yogurt, fruit, pastries, “some days fancy French toast, sausage and gravy” and other specials, Bonnema said.
“I’d like to go back to last year,” he said when asked about occupancy. “Last year was great and we had a lot scheduled for this summer but as of that February day when they announced corona all we have is cancellations. I’d say we haven’t made any money until July 1.”
The new owners converted the administration building into the Abundant Energy Wellness Center, which contains a sauna, therapy and a small group meeting space. Daughter-in-law Becky Bonnema runs it.
Bonnema, the cop turned hotelier, said the family has been blessed to find the Echo Mountain Inn and to make it home to four generations. His mother, 90, lives on the property, as do Travis and Becky and their five children.
“For 15 years (the Kylstras) have been praying over this property and we can feel the effects of that,” he said. “It’s peaceful here and I think it’s more than just a view of mountains. Years of people taking care of it and praying over it and really putting their life into it has made our getting started a lot easier.”

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Echo Mountain Inn is at 2849 Laurel Park Highway in Laurel Park. For information call 828-693-9626 or visit EchoMountainInn.com. For more photos of the inn, the common space, rooms and wellness center, visit hendersonvillelightning.com.