In 1991, Katie Whalen-Elsbree and her husband, Phil, completed construction on the four condos that replaced the little Ocean Beach cottage they had lived in for 20 years. The couple had planned to live in one and sell the other three “just 500 feet from the ocean, beach and pier.”
But the real-estate market was soft and they decided to keep one unit for themselves and convert two of the others into a five-bedroom, five-bath bed-and-breakfast. They converted the remaining condo into a vacation rental.
The idea panned out, and the quaint New England-style building, which Phil designed, became Elsbree House Bed & Breakfast, located at 5054 Narragansett Ave.
Today, Katie, a one-time schoolteacher who taught at Ocean Beach Summit High School for her last six years in the classroom, is the innkeeper. As such, she’s in charge of guest relations, reservations, correspondence and hospitality.
Having studied interior design, she’s also in charge of décor.
“I have an excuse to buy and fix things up,” said Katie. “Our goal is to keep the house in the same shape as it was 21 years ago.”
The self-described “people-person” in the family, she regularly joins guests for breakfast, answering questions and helping with itineraries.
People who gravitate to B&Bs are not like regular travelers, Katie said.
“They want to connect with other people. I’m like their tour guide the first day, then they meet other guests.”
Phil, a former math and science teacher for the San Diego County Office of Education, does all the behind-the-scenes work, including maintaining the grounds, making the beds and preparing an “extended continental breakfast,” including baking bread and scones.
Since their first guest on March 17, 1991, the couple has entertained thousands of people from around the world, including honeymooners, cruise passengers, visiting parents of college students and many friends and families of OB neighbors.
“There are so many people you really love, that are fun and funny and you’re sorry when they leave,” Katie said. “We keep in touch with some and have many, many repeats.”
Some of their guests are third-generation visitors to Elsbree House. Most travelers are great, she said, and give the inn top scores on vacation and B&B websites.
One of the few negative guests, Katie recalled, complained on the Internet there was no place to eat in OB.
Room costs at the B&B are $109 a night in the winter and up to $195 in the summer.
“Business is good,” Katie said. “We’re doing better this year than last.”
Though managing the B&B is a seven-day- a-week job, the Elsbrees do hire a relief when necessary.
And when they’re home, they’re glad to have some privacy. Guests have their own living room and dining room.
“Elsbree House has good karma — OB karma,” Katie said.
It pays the expenses on the property, with some money left over for travel. Yes, the couple often stay in B&Bs.
“No two are alike. They’re all unique, taking on the character and personality of the innkeeper,” Katie said.
Katie, the founder of Fostering Opportunities Dollars for Scholars, a group that helps kids who have aged out of foster care, is the current president of Ocean Beach Dollars for Scholars, for OB and Point Loma students.
For more information on Elsbree house, visit www.bbinnob.com, or call (619) 226-4133.