BEDFORD — Melissa Marshall Jacobs moved from her native Indiana several years ago, but there are always people around to help her keep in touch.
Jacobs and her husband, Shannon, are owners of Bedford’s Jean Bonnet Tavern, which dates to 1762.
The building had been destined from the start to play several historical roles, according to the tavern’s website, www.jeanbonnettavern.com. It was built on the only road connecting eastern Pennsylvania with the Ohio River and beyond. The tavern would also become an important meeting spot for farmers involved in the Whiskey Rebellion.
The tavern, 6048 Lincoln Highway, would go on to serve as a camp for troops summoned by President George Washington. In 1779, Jean (John) Bonnet and his wife purchased the property. Since then, it has changed ownership several times, with the Jacobses purchasing it about 13 years ago.
“My husband had been in a corporate position with Hoss’s,” said Melissa Jacobs. “He was tired of traveling and was ready for something different. I really wanted to stay and raise our sons in Bedford. We had thrown the idea of running a business around for a couple years. When we looked at the Jean Bonnet, which had been for sale eight years, we knew it was the place for us.”
She said Bedford was a draw for her because it has many similarities to her hometown.
“The majority of the success I have enjoyed has come from my Indiana County foundation,” Jacobs said. “My family, my teachers and my participations at Graystone Presbyterian Church provided me with that foundation.
“We have a very local customer base from Indiana that stop when they are headed through and it’s always so nice for me to see familiar faces from my hometown.”
“Bedford is very similar to Indiana, minus the university,” she said. “It has an active downtown area, great public schools, hardworking people — it’s a great community to raise a family.”
The Jean Bonnet as it is today employs more than 60 people. According to Jacobs, they have three managers, several chefs, bartenders, servers, food-runners, busers, expediters, housekeeping, gift shop employees and dishwashers.
“People are sometimes surprised at how many staff members it takes to make a business like this operate smoothly,” she said. “In our busiest month last year, we had over 14,000 guests come through our doors.”
In addition to the tavern, the Jean Bonnet also consists of a bed-and-breakfast that has four rooms that are filled most weekends throughout the year, as well as a gift shop. Running a business of this magnitude has its ups and downs, she said.
“I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from owning the Jean Bonnet Tavern,” Jacobs said. “It is such an amazing, historic property and there is a real sense of pride that comes from maintaining and preserving a national historic landmark. I have met great people over the years and developed many friendships. After 13-plus years, I still love coming to work and I am never bored. That is a gift.”
But it is stressful, she said, and there is no safety net.
“We have a lot of employees that are counting on us to make wise decisions,” she said.
With her roots still stuck in Indiana, Jacobs sees potential in this area and said she has never ruled out a return.
“Indiana has many interesting properties that are currently operating as restaurants or could be converted to house-unique dining or lodging,” she said. “My husband and I are constantly kicking around new business ventures that we think we should tackle.”