Beth Koralia moved through the foyer of the Merryweather Inn, greeting guests as they trickled down from the second floor. To maximize social distancing, Koralia seated two couples in their own dining rooms and another pair on a large porch that wrapped around the old mansion turned bed and breakfast.
Koralia bought the former Olcott House in December. She opened in February, and was booked for Valentine’s Day. Then, COVID-19 hit.
A pandemic was not in her business plan, but she’s working with it. Koralia is adhering to CDC guidelines, and the inn is spacious enough to spread everyone out.
“The way I look at it, the house was through the 1918 pandemic, so why shouldn’t it survive another one,” she said.
The commercial jet pilot and former personal chef, has lived in Miami, Washington and Chicago. She returned to her hometown to buy a B&B, which requires a big home with a lot of possibilities, Koralia said.
The Olcott House, located at 2316 E. 1st St., was built in 1904 for Fannie and William Olcott, president of the Oliver Iron Mining Co. and the first president of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.
The brick mansion and carriage house covers more than 10,000 square feet. There are six guest suites, 12 fireplaces, two buildings, a mahogany wood-paneled library, a ballroom in the basement and a music room.
The current staff is Koralia, her parents, her boyfriend and a couple handymen. They painted, stripped, hauled, cleaned, redecorated.
There were inches of dust, peeling wallpaper and piles of furniture and artifacts that could not be redeemed.
Some of her discoveries in the home were a sealed-off closet, a second staircase and a padded room in the basement. “I don’t know why that was there. Definitely creepy,” she said.
Koralia lives on the third floor, where there are an additional six rooms and a kitchen. It was set up to be the owner’s quarters, and she’s debating whether to reconfigure it into another guest suite.
“At the end of the day, climbing to the third floor is a feat in itself,” she said.
She’s the innkeeper, the hostess, the groundskeeper and the chef. The latter is a calming job, she said. “When I get stressed out or anxious … I don’t eat, but I cook.”
And Koralia likes to experiment in the kitchen.
On the inn’s Instagram page, there are photos of Baked Brie with Blackberries and Thyme, Salmon with Strawberry Peach Brandy Sauce, Cheesy Potato Pie with Zucchini Mushroom and Eggplant Hash.
On a recent Thursday morning, she and her father, John, served a three-course meal of Orange, Cucumber and Fennel Salad, Shrimp and Grits, and Tiramisu.
It was Scott and Jen Klawitter’s first stay at a B&B. “The allure of Duluth” brought them north, said Scott, of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. They’d visited about 10 years ago, but there was more to see.
They were drawn to the Merryweather due to its history, said Jen, noting the inn’s beauty and space.
“The sink in the bathroom was gorgeous. I just took a picture of it, actually,” she said.
“It’s in good shape, solid, but it needs care,” said John Bouhall of Cleveland.
“For what she got her hands on, she’s got a lot of work to do, but I’ll tell you what — great people; the place is clean,” he added.
“Beth is doing the right amount of touch-ups, while keeping the integrity alive,” said Sarah Peterson of Eagan, Minnesota. She worked as a housekeeper when she was in college, and was visiting Duluth with her husband.
Scott Peterson said this was their “first venture out” since the shutdown, and the mansion’s layout, the large stairwells, separate dining areas and wide hallways felt reassuring.
Step through a pink door to see a front hallway with blue wallpaper, where old pictures of the Olcotts hang.
To the right is a library with full shelves, a chandelier and a fireplace. To the left, a music room with a piano, a candelabra and a dainty, gold-painted coffee table with a glass display.
Walk up the blue carpeted stairs to the second floor.
In the blue room suite, sunlight spills in from tall windows onto baby blue walls, dark blue woven rugs and tan wood floors.
The Rockefeller suite, where the mogul once stayed, feels regal with a deep brown leather sofa, red and blue rugs and a dark brown, four-post bed with a white cloud-like duvet.
There’s a reception area and a ballroom in the basement.
In the future, Koralia hopes to host events there.
And, she plans to expand her offerings to a mystery dinner theater and a monthly supper club. “I want this to be a destination for locals as well as tourists,” she said.
It is a lot of work, with more to do, but Koralia likes it.
“There are not a lot of jobs where you get to make people happy,” she said.
Her guests are in vacation mode and predisposed to relaxation. And that side effect extends to her, too. She gets to cook, be at home and spend more time with her family and pets.
“There are things for me that are difficult. For me, this is pretty easy. It’s hard work, but it’s manageable.”
It all seems to be a part of the wizardry of the place, that’s also reflected in its name.
It’s from “Sleeping Beauty,” Koralia explained.
Merryweather is the fairy who uses her gift to change Maleficent’s curse over Aurora from death to a deep sleep. She uses her magic for good. People come to the B&B looking for respite, and “We want to undo the bad magic,” Koralia said.