By Cassandra M. Vanhooser
When Rebecca Merritt opened her McMinnville bed-and-breakfast in 2005, she wanted to give guests something to take home, something that would help them remember their visit to the Bonnie Blue Inn. She found her inspiration on the family farm.
“Fresh produce is a byproduct of our nursery business,” Rebecca explains. “I really just started canning to have something special to give my guests.”
A former UT Extension agent, Rebecca has now created her own line of jams, jellies, fruit butters and relishes. She freezes the fruits as they ripen, then sets aside one Friday each month for canning. The Bonnie Blue Cannery is licensed, and its products have been designated a Pick Tennessee product by the Department of Agriculture.
Every guest receives a jar of something tasty as a gift when they check out and head home. It’s a homegrown, homemade gift that is a true reflection of the Bonnie Blue and its owners. “We grow most of what we use in the cannery,” Rebecca says. “It’s not a major part of our business right now, but we’re hoping it continues to grow.”
A Dream Come True
While the interest in her canning business has been a little unexpected, Rebecca says she has dreamed of running her own bed-and-breakfast for years. When husband Brett purchased a neighboring farm to expand his nursery business in 2003, she finally got her opportunity.
“When we bought the farm where the house sits, I immediately started trying to convince my husband that we should open a B&B,” she says. “I pictured the house just like it is today.”
What’s now known as the Bonnie Blue Inn was then just a rundown early 19th-century farmhouse with no plumbing, an outhouse, and an active beehive humming away in the walls. “We don’t know the exact date the house was built, but we have found records where someone sold it in 1908,” Rebecca notes. “We tried to keep as much original as possible, but it needed a lot of repair.”
New Life for an Old House
Opened in 2005, the house has been updated, but retains its charm and character. Outside, there’s a tin roof, lazy porch with rocking chairs and wide green lawn. Inside, the Bonnie Blue is at once both modern and old-fashioned. Hardwood floors run throughout and fresh colors don the walls, but antiques and farm “finds” make up the décor.
Remarkably, Rebecca has resisted the urge to fill every nook and cranny with keepsakes, giving the inn a clean, welcoming feel. “We tried to keep the feel of 100 years ago, but we have all the modern conveniences,” she says. “We don’t live in the house, so it is very private. We’re not far away, but our guests really have the place to themselves.”
The inn only has two guest rooms: the Rose Room downstairs and the Esposita Suite above. Both boast queen beds and private baths, but the suite claims a daybed with trundle that’s perfect for families. Room rates include a decadent homemade dessert in the evening and a full breakfast in the morning, with both sweet and savory options.
Tea and More
Still, overnight guests make up only a portion of the Bonnie Blue’s business. Rebecca’s culinary skill is well known, making the inn a favored spot for staging events, from bridesmaids’ luncheons to corporate meetings. The dining room becomes a Tea Room from spring through Christmas and is open to the public for lunch Tuesday through Thursday. She even delivers lunch in McMinnville on those days.
Whatever the occasion, Rebecca prides herself on offering only the best homemade foods. Her “special ingredient” chicken salad tops the list of favorites at the Tea Room, but the Reuben runs a close second. Specials range from quiche and stuffed pasta shells to shepherd’s pie and Sloppy Joes.
“My favorite thing on the menu is the ‘special’ because I don’t cook on Thursday nights,” Rebecca admits with a laugh. “Whatever is leftover, that’s what I serve my own family. The ‘special’ is something a little heartier. I try to do something men would like.”
Rebecca caters locally, but also hosts her own special events throughout the year. At Valentine’s, she serves dinner to eight lucky couples, with tables spread throughout the house to guarantee privacy. A Grandmother’s Tea Party highlights the spring, and there’s a luncheon the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Especially popular is the Santa Tea Party, a treat for the younger set.
No matter what brings guests to the Bonnie Blue Inn, Rebecca hopes they feel at home. “Some days we’re bustling, and some days it’s quiet around here,’ she says. “But I like for people to be able to relax and enjoy the feel of the place. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
Bonnie Blue Inn: 2317 Old Smithville Road, McMinnville, TN 37110; (931) 815-3838, (931) 668-2944, or www.bonnieblueinn.com. Rates: $90-$100 per night. Tea Room: open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, March through December. Jams, jellies and other canned goods: available for purchase at the inn or by mail order. Call for information.