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Small Biz Saturday: Ann Arbor’s Burnt Toast Inn sees dramatic drop in visitors in 2020

Burnt Toast Inn is at 415 W. William Street, a few blocks away from Ann Arbor's Main Street area.
Burnt Toast Inn is at 415 W. William Street, a few blocks away from Ann Arbor's Main Street area. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Ann Arbor’s bed-and-breakfast community is feeling the slow burn of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

"The things that have driven my business have been music venues, theater, sports, Art Fair, graduation, Summer Festival and football, " said Burnt Toast Inn owner Sarah Okuyama.

Located a stone’s throw away from Ann Arbor’s Main Street, the vibrant B&B usually houses hundreds of visitors attending Tree Town’s numerous summer and fall events. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of events has left Burnt Toast empty.

Sitting in the B&B’s large kitchen filled with pans and pots of every shape and size, Okuyama said there have been dramatically fewer guests since March than in a typical year. This has led the business to only make one-fifth of its annual income.

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Although there was an uptick in guests as parents helped students move into the University of Michigan this August, Okuyama is worried about how the B&B will fare this winter, a traditionally quiet time of year for her business.

The front room of Burnt Toast Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan is full of art and items Okuyama has picked up over the years.
The front room of Burnt Toast Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan is full of art and items Okuyama has picked up over the years. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

Burnt Toast Inn started sixteen years ago in 2004 and it’s more than just Okuyama’s business, it’s her home.

And the B&B feels like a home. On the main floor, walls are covered in vibrant colors and are decorated with masks, artwork and other unique knickknacks the innkeeper has picked up from her travels over the years.

Each of the guest bedrooms has personalized touches like patterned rugs, art deco desk lamps and thick quilts while stained glass can be found in windows throughout the house. Okuyama said she decorated the B&B in colors and styles she likes, which gives the older home an adventurous personality.

The historic house can hold 11 people safety but Okuyama has limited that number to eight during the pandemic. She wants to make sure that everyone can be socially distant and have the space they need.

During breakfast, guests are also spread out throughout the first level between the kitchen, dining space and the B&B’s large living room. Guests can even enjoy breakfast out in the backyard and garden area which look out onto West William Street when the weather is nice.

Burnt Toast Inn innkeeper Sarah Okuyama keeps a desk available for visiting researchers and scholars in the Master Suite.
Burnt Toast Inn innkeeper Sarah Okuyama keeps a desk available for visiting researchers and scholars in the Master Suite. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

For those thinking about having a staycation in Ann Arbor, Burnt Toast Inn has five rooms to choose from.

On the main level, the Green Room opens up to the B&B’s backyard and has its own bathroom across the main hall. Upstairs, guests can choose from the Gold Room, Purple Room and the Master Suite, which has its own attached bathroom with a massive tub and shower.

The Gold and Purple rooms share a bathroom but Okuyama said she closed one of the rooms so that guests don’t share with a stranger during the pandemic. Members of the same household can rent both rooms and share the bathroom, but she wants to keep the house as safe as possible for her other guests.

The B&B’s attic also houses a large family-friendly bedroom with a humungous attached bathroom that has heated floors.

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Guests on the two upper floors can help themselves to a coffee station where Okuyama keeps different Keurig coffees and a collection of magazines if they need something to read.

They can also hang out with Okuyama’s lovable four-legged friend Gus Gustoferson, a friendly black American Labrador. Gus isn’t allowed in guest rooms but can often be found on the B&B’s first floor playing with his toys. According to Okuyama, he lives for people so guests are enthusiastically greeted at the door. The two of them live in what Okuyama calls “the Shed” in the back of the property.

Burnt Toast Inn is pet-friendly and the innkeeper talks with guests who want to bring their own furry family members to make sure everyone is accommodated.

The attic room available at Burnt Toast Inn comes with two beds and its own attached bathroom.
The attic room available at Burnt Toast Inn comes with two beds and its own attached bathroom. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

Although travel websites she partners with have encouraged her to dramatically lower prices to make more profit, Okuyama said that she wants to keep guests safe, even if it means only being busy sporadically.

She was able to get a grant, which has helped keep the business afloat so far, but the future is hard to predict. She’s hoping that things go relatively back to normal for her business once a vaccine is available. She just needs to keep the B&B operational until then, something that other businesses in the Ann Arbor area are also struggling to do.

“Nobody has fared at all. We’re all tied into the university,” Okuyama said. She’s spoken with other members of a local bed-and-breakfast association and everyone is hurting.

Learn more about each of the B&B’s rooms and rates at www.burnttoastinn.com

Burnt Toast Inn is at 415 W. William St.

A handwritten message left by guests at Burnt Toast Inn.
A handwritten message left by guests at Burnt Toast Inn. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

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