By Stefanie Jackson – A Cape Charles couple proved there’s life after 50 when they recounted the adventures they had running a bed-and-breakfast for nearly 25 years after retiring from their corporate careers.
Bruce and Carol Evans, who owned and operated Cape Charles House, the second bed-and-breakfast ever opened in town, recently retired, just shy of the inn’s 25th anniversary on June 24.
But the story behind Cape Charles House began more than 40 years ago, when Bruce Evans moved to Richmond for his job as a Sears project manager.
It was there that Bruce Evans met his future wife, Carol Evans, a Sears executive whose work included teaching in-store cooking classes and doing product demonstrations on the sales floor to promote a new appliance that was being introduced to consumers – the microwave.
They married and created a blended family – each was a single parent of two children between the ages of 9 and 12 when they met.
The couple took turns planning their wedding anniversary celebration every year.
In 1991, when were living in Chesapeake, Va., Bruce Evans took his wife across the bay for an anniversary trip to a surprise location – Cape Charles. They stayed at the only bed-and-breakfast in town, the Sea Gate.
They immediately fell in love with the town. There was “a charm and friendliness here that was just unbelievable,” Bruce Evans said.
It was the couple’s first time staying at a bed-and-breakfast, and they kept their host up half the night talking about the “beautifully renovated” former HUD home.
The host was convinced that the Evanses had the right personality to run their own bed-and-breakfast and arranged for them to meet a real estate agent the next morning, a Sunday.
They would wind up buying the first house they saw that morning, although not until two years later.
Bruce and Carol Evans’ original plan following their fateful weekend getaway was to wait 10 years, retire, buy a home in Cape Charles, and transform it into a bed-and-breakfast.
But in 1993, they were offered an early retirement package by Sears, and they took it.
Carol Evans said she and her husband “always knew they would do something together,” but they didn’t know what or how soon. They also didn’t know what a success it would be.
They had difficulty hiring workers to fix the house on Tazewell Avenue, so they decided to do the work themselves, even though they had barely picked up a hand tool before. They enjoyed the work, and Bruce Evans even learned to do electrical work.
They reserved the third floor of the home as an apartment for themselves, which they lightheartedly called “the penthouse.”
Cape Charles House opened and Bruce Evans was “surprised how quickly it caught on,” even though it didn’t have an online presence in the beginning. Its first listing was in a travel book.
In 1999, a travel writer from the Eastern Shore nominated Cape Charles House for the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s annual Outstanding Hospitality Award. It won, overtaking about 700 other nominees.
As a result, Cape Charles House got exposure and advertising that the Evanses couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
Then they got a call from the producers of the HGTV show, “If Walls Could Talk.”
The film crew arrived one morning, intending to spend “a couple hours,” but they were at the inn until 7 p.m.
Even the filmmakers were taken in by Bruce and Carol Evans’ hospitality. The couple recommended Ray’s Shanty for dinner, then forgot about it. They showed up at the restaurant, where they encountered the filmmakers and engaged them in conversation for three hours.
Cape Charles House stayed successful through the years as the Evanses kept things fun and lively with their personal touches.
They served wine and cheese in the evenings with herbs from their garden and held cooking school weekends.
They hosted murder mystery weekends. They sent guests on scavenger hunts that led them up and down the Eastern Shore.
Bruce and Carol Evans were good at making friends, and 50% of their guests repeatedly returned to Cape Charles House. More than 500 of their guests bought homes on the Shore.
One of those guests bought Cape Charles House after it spent four years on and off the market. She was a first-time guest who was captivated by the home and the town just as the Evanses were more than 25 years ago.
Cape Charles House will become a private home once again. The Evanses now live across the street, in one of the four units in the apartment building they own.
They are happy about what they have done at Cape Charles House and the “incredible friendships with people from all over the world, from all walks of life.”
Perhaps it’s their hospitable nature that prevents Bruce and Carol Evans from taking all the credit for their success. Their secret?
“We have only the best guests.”