How Chef Darren Mahussier Became an Accidental Innkeeper

The Innisfree Bed & Breakfast's zero-percent vacancy rate and commitment to sustainable tourism are no fluke
(Photography: Innisfree Bed & Breakfast)

During the pandemic, Darren Mahussier, who lived in the Algonquin Park area, was searching for a 100-acre property in Ontario to set up a sustainable off-the-grid cottage as part of his plan to retire in ten years. Not finding land he could afford, the 56-year-old chef broadened his search to the Canadian Maritimes, but still found nothing. One day in November 2020, he accidentally typed “10 acres” instead of “100 acres” into, and a property in New Brunswick popped up with the potential he wanted: a home with seven bathrooms and six bedrooms. When he realized it was a bed and breakfast, he said, “That’s my new business!”

The Innisfree Bed & Breakfast, which is located near the Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park, hadn’t yet sold because of a lack of customers due to pandemic restrictions on leisure travel and banks that wouldn’t provide financing. Fortunately, Mahussier had enough cash to last 18 months without customers, so he took possession of the property in April 2021. Taking over the property took him back to his family’s roots and made him a third-generation hotelier: His grandparents once ran a hotel and his parents owned a lodge.

Related: Backyard Farm’s New Venture Is Farm-to-Table Dining at Its Finest

He retained the B&B’s previous name for continuity, but considers the property more of an inn since he offers other amenities such as evening meals. In fact, the evening meals were a large part of what helped him bring in the initial business. Within three months, he had been lucky enough to fill the place with business travellers who left him rave reviews especially about his cooking. Then, when pandemic restrictions were lifted and leisure travellers returned, these reviews helped him reach 100 per cent occupancy without expensive marketing. “I don’t advertise,” Mahussier says. “All I do is ask people to go on TripAdvisor or Google and write a comment if they enjoyed their stay.”

Darren Mahussier chops onions in the kitchen of his inn
Darren Mahussier (Photography: Innisfree Bed & Breakfast)

Mahussier also increased his rates to reflect the strong demand and extra value he provides. Introduced to classic French cuisine at age five by his parents, he completed the 6,000 apprenticeship hours required to become a Red Seal Chef in 1996, a national standard of creativity and quality. Because of this, Mahussier has a unique combination of attention to customer service and culinary skill. “I would say, that maybe out of 50 bed and breakfasts, only one will be run by a chef,” Mahussier says. “My day is anywhere from 12 to 16 hours long because I cook both breakfast and dinner.” To recover from these long days, he closes for six months during the winter in preparation for the next season.

His early success has meant he passed his break-even point and is now able to invest in making the business more sustainable. “That money that I got in the first season I put into making the 175-year-old building more sustainable by swapping out my heating system from an oil-fired furnace to a geothermal system, re-insulating everything and changing some windows. That sustainability investment will be paid back in five years,” says Mahussier. He also refrains from cutting the trees in the forest on his 10-acres, treating it as a carbon sink to offset carbon he emits with his vehicle and electrical use.

Mahussier is also pursuing GreenStep sustainable tourism certification and believes he has New Brunswick’s first net-carbon-neutral bed and breakfast. He was recently recognized by NB Power as one of New Brunswick’s first Energy Champions, an initiative to recognize businesses that have undertaken energy-saving projects.

“Darren sets an amazing example of what can be done in rural communities and the role business and entrepreneurs can play in reshaping our communities,” says Micha Fardy, the executive director of Friends of Fundy, a charitable organization that partners with Fundy National Park and works with communities around the national park to support meaningful visitor experiences. “Darren is demonstrating how businesses can actively be doing good in the community and local economy, and have a much bigger impact.”

Fardy also thinks Mahussier understands his customers. “There’s an expectation when you come to anywhere in the world that businesses and communities are stewards of place,” Fardy says. “Darren is meeting and exceeding that expectation because what guests experience when they stay with Darren is an authentic perspective of how he sees the value of the ecosystem.”

Mahussier’s love of his new location and his enthusiasm in adapting sustainable business practices can serve as guideposts for other sustainably-minded entrepreneurs. “Where I’m living right now is just so spectacular,” Mahussier says. “I want to make sure this is the same for the people who come after me.”