Born in China, Kewei Xu immigrated to the United States in 2001 and settled down in Maryland. That’s where he started a family and advanced in his IT career, but he eventually got bored with the daily office grind. So he quit his job, took a long vacation, and got with a business partner to pursue entrepreneurship. In 2018, the duo purchased The Wayside Inn, a historic, six-room bed and breakfast located in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Hello Alice recently spoke with Xu about his decision to become an entrepreneur, what relief programs helped the business weather the pandemic, and why he thinks anybody can run an inn if they put their mind to it. What follows are his own words, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Co-owner, The Wayside Inn | Ellicott City, MD
“In 2017, I quit my job. The decision happened little by little over time. I was so, so happy when I first got my job after I finished graduate school and got my first paycheck. I got married. I got my first dream car. But after some years, I kind of felt the burnout. I felt like there was no challenge, that nothing is going to change in my life. The Monday morning when I walked into my office, I pretty much knew what was going to happen that whole entire week. So I decided that there was a beautiful world out there, and I had to try something different with my life.
I was trying to start my own business and wanted to be an entrepreneur. I did a lot of research, and eventually, I stopped by at this beautiful, charming bed and breakfast to meet with Mr. Dave, the previous owner. I loved the property, and I also knew that Mr. Dave had run it successfully for about 25 years, so everything’s on the right track — nothing needed to change. We decided to take it off his hands.
Me and my business partner have known each other for a long, long time. Before, we were just friends, and I knew he had been a successful businessman in China. Together, we did a lot of research on opening restaurants, hotels, even those small stores in the mall. We eventually decided to go after the inn because the business was already solid. I also loved the idea of doing the cooking. When I serve my breakfast and see the smile on the customers’ faces, I feel happy.
I’m the only child in my family so my parents put a really high expectation on me. They wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer — you know, those “real” jobs. So I had no outdoor activities when I was young. I played piano and did homework all day. My break time was to go to the kitchen and help my mom do all the kitchen stuff. You know, wash veggies and fruits, help my mom prepare dinner or lunch. So that’s why I love cooking. Right now, the breakfasts that I serve at the inn, all of those are my passion. The decoration, presentation, cooking, recipes, everything — I do it all by myself. All my breakfasts are fresh-cooked, and every day the breakfast will be different. If I have customers stay here for three days, those three days will be different.
Learning to run the inn was not hard. My house is really close to the property, so before we finished the deal, I spent about two months just coming over every morning. I’d help Mr. Dave prepare all the breakfast, learn how to do the laundry, how to do the housekeeping. I learn things fast, so I felt like I was ready to go. I thought, I definitely can handle this.
Another reason I felt good was that Mr. Dave was almost 70 when we took over this property. He’d run this inn by himself for the past 25 years. You don’t have to have really special skills to run this. If you are not lazy, if you’re willing to learn, you can do this. When we fully took over in 2018, we did pretty good with lots of returning customers — and they loved our breakfast! Then, the pandemic.
Like all hotels and restaurants, we had to shut down. So we closed at the start of March and reopened after the Fourth of July. But the business was really, really low. We had almost zero income for half a year. But the good thing is we had the Paycheck Protection Programs that helped, and also we had a relief program from the local government. Plus, we have another $20,000 from Hello Alice and BGE. This grant program really, really helped us get through this pandemic. This month I believe we’ll get close to almost 80% of business compared with the month before the shutdowns.
We have a very good relationship with our community. When we moved to Maryland from California, we knew nothing, nobody. But there were a lot of local people who helped us find a job, get a rental house. So, my family, we believe this is the way we can pay back to this community. That’s why in 2019 we started sponsoring local baseball teams and soccer teams.
To be honest with you, if you compare just the figures, my IT jobs paid me better. But I’m happy, OK? I have my own business, I have more flexible time, I can spend more time with family, I can design my own breakfast. I’m happy! This is more important than money.”