MADAWASKA, Maine — Somewhere, the sisters of the former Mary of Mediatrix of the Filles de Sagasse, or daughters of wisdom, are smiling.
A year ago, local businessman Jonathan Roy converted their old Madawaska convent building into the Inn of Acadia, a boutique-style hotel that this summer was recognized by Yankee Magazine as the 2014 Best Convent Makeover.
“It’s quite an honor because the category is very cool to begin with,” Roy said. “I mean, who would have thought that what was once a convent is now a hotel offering lots of comfort and lots of amenities?”
Roy’s family has owned the building — which closed as a convent in 1979 — since 1993 when they opened it back up as Wisdom House, a senior care facility.
That facility closed in 2003, and it remained empty until Roy decided the area needed an upscale inn.
“I was looking for something to do with the building and felt there was a need for something new in the St. John Valley,” he said. “The building already had the historical element, and I wanted to keep that and add modern amenities.”
Working with a design team, Roy has done just that with unique rooms on three floors.
“We wanted each room to be different from each other,” Roy said. “There is nothing ‘cookie cutter’ about this.”
Each room has unique, locally produced artwork, furniture and accessories highlighting the area’s lumber, potato, paper and forest industries and history. Prices range from $79 to $149 per night, depending on the season.
Four of the rooms include kitchenettes, and all have maintained at least part of the original structure including brick walls, stonework and existing windows.
The idea, Roy said, was to create a comfortable and inviting inn to attract people to the area and from where they could explore the larger region.
“This is all part of making the St. John Valley a destination,” he said. “We want to tell our story here as best as we can.”
That story, Roy said, can include exploring from one end of the valley to another or heading north into Canada just across the St. John River.
More recently, Roy opened the Voyageur Lounge in the inn and hired Samantha Berry as its executive chef.
Owner of the former Custom Cake Cafe in Fort Kent, Berry is excited about bringing a local twist to upscale dining at the Inn of Acadia.
“We want to offer a totally unique dining experience,” Berry said. “We are using local and Maine-made products as much as we can.”
Among the dining options are a “poutine of the week” in which Berry adds a gourmet touch to the Quebecois inspired dish of french fries, cheese curds and gravy.
“So far, we have done a chicken alfredo poutine, a barbeque pork poutine and are looking to do a goat cheese curd poutine,” she said.
This past week she offered a “Thanksgiving poutine” with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
There also are plans for a “ploye bar” featuring the Acadian buckwheat pancakes made to order.
“It’s important to me to keep things as local as possible whether it’s the food or furnishings or decorations,” Roy said. “That is part of my goal [because] there is a lot of talent on both sides of the border and there are many opportunities for collaborations.”
Berry and Roy also have unveiled “Community Give Back Tuesday” in which a percentage of all proceeds taken in at the lounge on Tuesdays is donated to a local charity or cause.
“Anyone can come see us to sign up for a Tuesday night to raise money for their cause,” Berry said. “On Tuesdays, we don’t have anyone signed up. We choose who it goes to.”
Roy hopes his inn will appeal to both business and vacation travelers and said he is set up to cater to both.
“People are looking to get out and experience a high level of service,” Berry said. “We are committed to offering that high level of customer service.”
Roy hopes the upcoming World Acadian Congress will not only bring business to the area but show the world what there is to do year round in the region.
“People can come here, book a room and go whale watching one day up in Quebec, bicycling around the lakes here another day and then spend another day looking at historical sites,” he said. “We need to advertise our area as a region to increase tourism.”
Roy employs between 25 and 30 people depending on the season and said no request from guests is too large or too small — so far.
“Our team here collectively believes that,” he said. “We will always put the guest first.”
That likely makes the nuns smile even more.
For information on the Inn of Acadia, visit www.innofacadia.com.