The innkeeper
By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- Gordon Safran, 71 Burton, Ohio

Trained as a pharmacist, Safran spent 30 years as CEO of E.B. Brown, a Cleveland-based chain of retail optical centers. Putting in endless hours, he built the business from three stores to 42. "But I always loved bringing the kids out to the country on the weekends," he says. The countryside he's referring to: the picturesque Cuyahoga RiverValley in northeastern Ohio. In 1995, Safran and his wife, Evie, bought a house near the town of Burton (pop. 1,446), and Safran took a class at Western Reserve University's B-school that got him thinking about his second act. "Everybody in the room was like me, all executives in our 50s and 60s," he recalls. "The instructor asked us, 'How many people here wish they were doing something else for a living?' and almost every hand went up. So I thought, 'Why not do it.'"

Safran noticed that while the Burton area had a winery, a historical museum, and a llama ranch, it had no inn. So in 1996 he sold E.B. Brown and decided to build a bed-and-breakfast. The project took some patience. First Safran had to find the right chunk of land and persuade the absentee owner to sell it to him - at a hefty price. Then the town of Burton took a year to approve the plan. Another cause for delays: "We used an Amish crew. They do beautiful work, but every time there's a wedding or a funeral in the community, everyone is gone for the day." The rambling white-clapboard Red Maple Inn opened its doors in 1999. Even better than the inn's Jacuzzi in every room and its 72% occupancy rate (well above the 50% average for B&Bs) is the effect it has had on its owners. Says Safran: "We're just having a ball." Top of page