By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – One of the all-time gems of Grand Isle County -- Shore Acres Inn and Restaurant – will be in new hands by Jan. 15.
Mike and Susan Tranby are selling the 46-acre site with 1,800 feet of waterfront to Neil and Kelly Gillespie, who have been part-time residents of South Hero since 2009.
“It is totally in good hands,” Susan Tranby told The Islander.
“Things moved really quickly,” said Neil Gillespie, who estimated he would eat at the business about once a week. “We don’t want to change the DNA of the place.”
The couple was dining earlier this summer at Shore Acres and learned the -inn and restaurant were for sale, Gillespie said.
Gillespie said he stepped about 15 feet away from their dining table and called an old friend with a long career in the hospitality business to get his thoughts on the property and maybe running the show if the sale went through.
Jason Hanny said he was surprised by the call, but began his research by Googling the inn’s website and The Islander newspaper. It included a news story with a color photograph of the Tranbys by the front door and saying they were putting the iconic business on the market.
Hanny said he arrived in Vermont four days later from Virginia with his yellow lab, Sawyer. After 30 seconds at Shore Acres he realized that would be his next big career adventure. The inn has 23 rooms with 19 on Lake Champlain.
A purchase and sales agreement was negotiated for the property this summer. The proposed purchase price is $2.95 million, Gillespie said.
For the Tranbys, who own 50 percent of the business, they won’t be going far. They are moving into a home on Station Road that they own, Susan Tranby said. She and her husband will be available to help the new owners, she said.
Shore Acres was purchased in 1981 by Doug Tudhope and his wife Billie, along with friends Jack and Shirley White. Tudhope, a former high school social studies teacher and state legislator, wanted to ensure the lakefront property in his home county was not converted into condos. The Tranbys, who became managers, were eventually allowed to buy half with the Tudhope and White families splitting the other half.
The Gillespies will have full ownership as the Tudhopes and Mrs. White divest, Susan Tranby said.
Into the future
“We are looking forward to it,” Neil Gillespie said in a phone call from the couples South Hero home earlier this summer.
They were married at the historic Old Round Chuch in Richmond in 2005 and later built a home in South Hero. The couple also lives in Virginia, but Gillespie says summers and skiing remain strong magnets for Vermont.
Hanny said much will remain the same because of the long-term success of Shore Acres, but some new treats will be offered down the road.
Neil and Kelly Gillespie plan to provide for 60 socially-distant seats inside the main restaurant -- down from the 80 seats pre-COVID-19. They also will add an outside bar near the water at the north end of the property with picnic tables, umbrellas and more for another 50-to-60 patrons.
A dock also will be added to help accommodate boaters interested in making a stop for a delicious meal or some drinks, Hanny said. Shore Acres also plans to add some Adirondack chairs with a fire pit near the water to handle another 30-to-40 patrons.
The new watering hole will be known as Bravo Zulu Lakeside bar, Gillespie said. It means “Well Done,” he said.
After striking the purchase and sales agreement earlier, the new owners have been going through the steps to get square with the state by securing tax permits, opening bank accounts and other steps for a new business. They are using local contractors whenever possible for any repairs or upgrades.
The Gillespies and Hanny also are reaching out to local and state officials to see what might be needed. At some point they will appear before the North Hero Selectboard to get a new liquor license for the business.
Hanny and Gillespie said the business plans to offer some nights to local non-profits, including fire departments and rescue squads to host fundraisers.
The Gillespies also plan to continue the many positive stars that have made Shore Acres a huge success in Vermont, according to Hanny, who will live on the property and serve as general manager.
“We’re super excited and absolutely love this place,” Hanny told The Islander.
The key is to be good neighbors, Hanny said, and Shore Acres will continue to be a welcoming spot.
Gillespie said the business currently employs about 45 people. The plan is to hire another 20-25 part-time employees – with first chances going to local residents, he said. If there are not enough applicants from the Champlain Islands, the business will look outside the county, Gillespie said.
They also will be looking to offer various jobs on the premises to military veterans. Gillespie is a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. After finishing at Annapolis, he did six years of active duty and eventually ending his career as a retired commander in the naval reserve.
He went on to work for a private defense contractor, Booz, Allen and Hamilton, and retired 9 years ago.
His wife operates Kelly Green Energy, an efficiency consulting firm.
Shore Acres also will be looking to work with colleges that offer internships for those in the hospitality industry. Interns will be able to learn about the operation of an inn, a top-notch restaurant, a lakefront bar and a scenic wedding site, Gillespie said.
Reports of the sale of the business had been circulating in late summer, but Susan Tranby wanted to wait for some final steps, including inspections to be completed before going public. Those have all been completed, she said this week. It is full speed ahead.