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The Grand Old Lady of Hope Re-Opens with a Little Bit of Help from the Grand Young Lady of Hope – Elissa Robbins

If the earth moves under your feet when Elissa Robbins walks into the room, don’t be surprised. It’s been happening to folks in Hope for almost 12 years. That’s because the room Elissa is usually walking into is the dining room of The Floating Restaurant and the restaurant really does float – on several feet of water in Ellisport Bay, a cove in Lake Pend Oreille protected by Hope’s Peninsula. You can always spot a new diner at the Floater, because they’re still trying to get their sea legs, and they carry that bemused expression on their face that asks, “How potent was that dinner wine, anyway?”

    Every October, however, the earth quits moving as the Floater closes up shop for the wintertime, the staff disperses, and Elissa spends the white half of the year up at the St. Bernard on Schweitzer Mountain.

    That’s changing this fall, however, because Elissa, along with everyone’s favorite sous chefs and wait staff from Hope’s most popular restaurant, are re-opening the most beautiful building in town; the historic Hotel Hope.

    In the late 1800s, Hope was a thriving, bustling little monarchy along the shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Timber was king, and the trees on almost every hill in sight were cut down, milled, and sent out to the rest of the country. Mining was timber’s queen, with dozens of active mines in the surrounding area pulling silver out of the hills. And as a division point for the Northern Pacific, the railroad could account for an entire court of lords and ladies.

    Presiding over it all was the Jeannot Hotel, completely rebuilt in 1897 after a fire gutted the original building. Within those walls walked legends like Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, railroad magnate J.P. Morgan and a man who would become President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.

    Those were glory days for Hope, but then the railroad’s influence dwindled, mining fell off, and timber lost its crown. Hope dwindled and, along with it, so did the Jeannot Hotel. By the end of the 1900s the old building was just that – an old building.

    And then Wendell Bergman came along with a dream of re-vitalizing the town by revitalizing one of its historic landmarks. He undertook a massive remodeling of the century-old building, which features 15” walls, an underground tunnel connecting to the railroad, and a massive, wooden bar. Hotel Hope, re-born, was re-opened. And then it was closed. And then it opened. And then it closed again. A fatalist would say the time wasn’t right.

    Elissa is just such a fatalist. “When I first came to town, I looked at this old building and wished something would happen with it,” she said. And when she heard through the grapevine that Bergman wasn’t going to re-open the restaurant a third time, she said, “I knew I had to do it. I had to make him an offer.”

    It was an offer he accepted, and now Elissa is leasing the building under a management contract, and has re-opened both the restaurant and the hotel to an enthusiastic crowd.

    “Our first weekend was great,” she said. “I wish all our weekends could be like that.”

    If they are, it won’t be the first time Elissa has sensed the perfect timing to make something work. “I first came to this area on a whim,” said the Missoula native. “I took a charter out of Hope and then one crazy thing led to another.” Those crazy things became an agreement between Elissa and the then-owner of The Floating Restaurant, Charlie Parrish, which culminated in a decade-plus success with the restaurant on the water.

    Elissa knows an opportunity when she sees one, and she knows how to make a business thrive, but what she really knows is how to cook. “I’ve been cooking since I was a baby,” she said, and described learning the craft at the knee of her French grandmother. She didn’t plan to become a chef, however, and actually went to school to study journalism. “But I started in the restaurant business, and that was it,” she explained.

    After a stint at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Elissa worked for a time in Jackson Hole. But she, “didn’t really feel at home, and I wanted a more comfortable setting.” She found it on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.   

    Comfort will be a theme at Hotel Hope under Elissa’s management. “I would call our menu ‘home style recipes.’ The focus will be on a lot of comfort food, from chicken pot pie to steaks, chops and fish. We’ll feature nightly specials that are a little bit lower priced.” And will the food be good? “As long as we make everything from scratch, and prepare it here, and taste it as we cook, it’s going to be good,” Elissa stated.

    Good food, cooked and served by a staff already known from the Floater; one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in town, complete with (possibly) a ghost or two; the greatest view available, overlooking the islands of Warren, Cottage and Pearl and the curving expanse of Lake Pend Oreille; and the woman who’s learned how to grab a dream and turn it into a reality. All the prime ingredients in what promises to be a recipe for success.

    Hotel Hope is open for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, for lunch on Friday, through Sunday, and for dinner on Thursday through Monday. Thirteen bed and breakfast style rooms are available for rent seven days a week, and banquet facilities are available for parties, meetings and workshops. Call 208-264-6004 for information.   


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Landon Otis

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