Familiarity attracted Gretchen and Tracy Du Peza to New Bern in 2015 as they investigated their next venture: Inkeeping.
New Bern was founded in 1710 by a Swiss baron who named the settlement after Bern, Switzerland, his ancestral home.
“We lived in Switzerland for 13 years, so we appreciate the Swiss tie-in here,” said Gretchen.
In January 2016, the Du Pezas bought the Downtown New Bern bed & breakfast then known as Harmony House, a distinctive and historic venue that dates back to 1850.
They restored and upgraded the inn and reinstated its historical name, the Benjamin Ellis House.
Benjamin Ellis House Bed & Breakfast is located on Pollock Street between the center of Historic Downtown New Bern and the Neuse River.
The inn features international influences throughout, ranging from the Swiss flag on the front porch to German Jaeger pipes and South African art inside.
The inn has two front doors, using the one on the left as the main entrance. Inside, the house is divided in two. To the left, there is an ornate wooden staircase with original wave scroll pattern, and an inviting parlor that opens into the dining room. To the right, there is another stairway and a hallway to the first-floor guest rooms.
Each of the inn’s eight guest rooms has its own theme, and features treasures and keepsakes lovingly curated and collected by the Du Pezas during their travels.
“We wanted to create a genuinely warm, happy feeling of coziness for guests,” said Gretchen.
The inn has seen family reunions, sorority reunions, a wedding, and several wedding proposals.
“It’s nice for locals to know that we are here and if family comes, they will have a place to stay,” Gretchen said.
Breakfast is served—and dinner too!
The dining room usually features three shared tables offering guests a communal breakfast experience, but in light of the pandemic, more tables spaced farther apart have been added—one group per table. Plated meals are served instead of the usual buffet.
The commercial kitchen is any cook’s dream. Hanging copper cookware accents this grand space, which is anchored by a lovely wooden kitchen island that the innkeepers brought from Munich.
Gretchen loves to cook. She has an impressive collection of cookbooks.
“I actually use them” she said.
Her menu changes daily, and alternates between old favorites and completely new surprises. Gretchen will always try to accommodate any dietary restrictions.
To provide social distancing measures during COVID-19, there are multiple breakfast seatings when the inn is at capacity or when there might be more than one group per table.
From the kitchen
Because the inn has a restaurant license, it can offer a candlelight dinner for two. The private, candlelit dining room creates an especially ambient environment where guests enjoy a three-course meal prepared by the innkeepers. While popular among guests, this service is available to local residents of New Bern as well. Dinner guests can choose from a variety of options. Wine is included with the meal. Dinners must be booked several days in advance.
Combining the best of then and now
The Benjamin Ellis has two ground-floor rooms and six second-floor rooms including two luxury King suites. Each room is named for a North Carolina river and has its own distinctive theme, reflecting the personal flavor and attention to detail that Gretchen and Tracy have put into their inn.
All rooms feature modern amenities and old-fashioned charm. Rock-solid plastered walls are nearly soundproof and provide privacy, and business-grade WiFi can accommodate the requirements of business groups. Each room comes equipped with its own private bathroom, quiet climate control, smart TV, and charging stations.
A sampling of suites
Throughout the inn, guests encounter friendly, personal touches. Hallways and spaces are thoughtfully transformed into conversation areas, reading nooks, and game areas. Guests have access to a beverage center that offers hot and cold beverages along with snacks.
A backyard garden is accessed through the back door and mudroom.
Up front, a broad covered porch facing Pollock Street allows guests to meet each other, converse, and to greet pedestrians passing by.
Gretchen offers a personal walking tour of downtown, featuring stories of New Bern’s rich history (it was founded in 1710, so there is a lot of history), and visiting her favorite stores.
She also offers “Cooking with the Innkeeper” classes that will resume once the pandemic is over.
The Benjamin Ellis House
Benjamin Ellis House, one of the older properties in New Bern, has a rich history.
Built around 1850, the building started out as a 2-by-2 with four rooms.
It was occupied by Union Army troops after the Battle of New Bern on March 14, 1862.
In the 1860s, a back addition was constructed, and in 1904, another addition was built in the Queen Anne style. That’s when it became a duplex, possibly because of an Ellis family disagreement.
In its present form, it is no longer a duplex, and the Du Pezas have simultaneously brought the property back to its former glory, and into the 21st century.