Longtime owner of B&B, catering company sells to Missouri couple
We’re just going to look.
That’s what Billy and Charlotte Moody told themselves when the Secret Garden popped up in an Internet search for Ouray bed and breakfasts a few months ago. Weary of the incessant sales meetings and conference calls, the empty nesters from Joplin, Missouri, were ready to break away from their corporate careers and dive into a new venture.
We’re not going to buy anything, they promised to each other on a September scouting road trip that wound through Estes Park and Glenwood Springs before dropping them into Ouray.
We’re going to think about it, they insisted as they pushed open the white wrought iron gate at the cottage at the west end of Sixth Avenue.
But then, “When (innkeeper) Sara (Sharpe) opened that door and said, ’Come on in,’ it was like, ‘We’re sold,’” Charlotte said.
And that’s how the Secret Garden Bed and Breakfast and catering company changed hands in late November, a sale that happened faster than seller and buyer thought it would but one everyone agrees was the Goldilocks of business transactions — it felt just right.
“I felt very much at peace that the right buyers would appear, and that’s what happened,” said Sharpe, who is retiring after owning Secret Garden for 14 years. “It needed just the right family to see the potential.”
The sale marks the end of a 42-year career in hospitality for Sharpe, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism but never pursued it as a profession. She moved to Miami, where somebody offered her a job demonstrating Cuisinart products. That led to teaching cooking classes. Within a couple of years, she had her own commercial kitchen and opened a catering business — a rarity in a field dominated by men in the 1970s.
“At the time the best you could hope for was to be a salad girl at Holiday Inn,” she said.
Sharpe moved to Ouray in 2000 and started a parent-teacher group at Ouray School. She liked hospitality and figured maybe she’d get a job at a local motel. She also thought a career change might be in store.
“When you’re in Ouray, you find yourself doing things you hadn’t done before,” she said.
But people kept asking her to cater parties and other private events. So she took advantage of an opportunity and purchased Secret Garden in 2005, hosting people from around the world and dozens of weddings.
“Somebody told me, ‘You must have had a lot of Bridezillas.’ I have had wonderful brides. There have been a few difficult ones. But the vast, vast majority have been great. Some of the brides, I cry when they leave,” Sharpe said.
Knowing it would take time to find the right buyer for a unique property, she first put Secret Garden on the market five years ago. She pulled it off after a year, then tried again this summer, when she and the Moodys found each other.
Sharpe has no regrets or hesitation about selling and retiring. She hopes to travel — hiking the Cinque Terre along the northwest coast of Italy is on her bucket list.
"There are things I want to do that require more energy, more stamina," she said.
The Secret Garden's new owners have spent most of their working lives in sales and marketing, so their new undertaking isn't wholly unfamiliar to them. Billy, 58, has sold pharmaceuticals for 30 years. He once owned a martial arts school and promoted martial arts training videos. Charlotte, 53, has spent time in varying careers, from teaching school, to owning a hair salon, to most recently working as a sales manager for Macy’s. Her desire and passion has remained the same: getting to know and helping people.
The Moodys had traveled through Ouray several times before and, like many people, were drawn to its beauty and intimacy. They immediately got a good vibe about Sharpe and the Secret Garden.
Likewise, Sharpe said, “I could tell these folks have a heart for hospitality.”
That's not to say there won't be a learning curve, however. While Sharpe plans to rent a house in Grand Junction for a year or two and be close to her daughter before moving into a new home in the forthcoming Alpenglow Cohousing project in Ridgway, she said she will stay on as long as the Moodys need her.
There’s a lot for Sharpe to share with the Moodys — practical information like the 11 binders worth of recipes she has accumulated over her 42 years as a caterer. There is also an abundance of anecdotes, like how she discovered late one night that seven of her 11 guests each had different dietary requirements for breakfast the next morning.
The Moodys will soak it all in and then, just as Sharpe did 15 years ago, make Secret Garden their own. But they figure they have a pretty good blueprint from which to start.
“Sara has done it right for so many years. We’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel,” Billy said.