When Gail and Bob Palmer decided build a big, southern-style home in the country and open a bed-and-breakfast, they figured it would be a great weekend job.
A decade later, they are counting their blessings and running their business 24/7, with a fairly steady stream of traffic heading down their one-lane dirt road to escape the noise and stress of the city.
Guests who stay in one of the five rooms offered at the warm, elegantly appointed house start their day with Gail Palmer's fluffy quiches, her yogurt parfaits and her signature almond-crusted French toast before heading to the pool for a dip, swinging on the porch, joining their scrap-booking group or riding horses nearby.
The business started out when Bob Palmer was still working full-time as a civil engineer. Gail gave up her job with a defense contractor to run her own business, located off of Lithia-Pinecrest Road, southeast of FishHawk Ranch.
"I've had periods of doubt since we started," Bob Palmer said.
But after Palmer's civil engineering firm closed due to the lousy economy, the bed-and-breakfast is what saved the couple financially, he said. It turned out to be one of many blessings the Palmers believe the business has bestowed on them.
Much of their gratitude goes to the FishHawk Ranch community, which has embraced the guesthouse. FishHawk residents regularly send friends and family to the door of the big yellow house for holidays, graduations and other events that bring people to this area with no hotels.
"We're in FishHawk's backyard, and over the years, we've built a really good reputation as being part of that community," Gail Palmer said. "If there is a fundraiser in FishHawk, we're there giving out gift cards. We work with the Palmetto Club on small events, we host baby showers, business retreats, ladies luncheons and marriage retreats."
And weddings. Since opening, Palmer House has hosted about 100 weddings, Bob Palmer said.
A scrap-booking club from Southwest Florida has booked the house five years in a row.
Terry Hitchcock and her husband, Scott, have hosted two marriage retreats there for groups of 12, with bookings at Palmer House for about eight more in the next two years.
"The first thing we love about Palmer House is Bob and Gail," said Terry Hitchcock, of Tampa. "They are warm, wonderful Christian people, and they make the experience very special."
Hitchcock said she loves how the spacious rooms are appointed, the amenities on the property and the comfort her groups find there. "It is, to me, one of the most peaceful places on the face of the earth.
"I want the southern look and feel, and from the moment you arrive there, your body relaxes, and you feel like you're somewhere else besides the big city," Hitchcock said.
Ellel Ministries, an international Christian mission with local headquarters in Keystone, also books the house on a regular basis, bringing people there from around the country and the globe for spiritual healing.
"We had a down time. … But we kept our doors open through the hard times," Gail Palmer said.
Since the early days, the Palmers have added a pool, an eight-person hot tub and a fifth guestroom, all shaded by grandfather oaks sprinkled across the property.
While Gail Palmer takes care of the guests and the reservations, Bob Palmer is now the full-time plumber, carpenter, gardener and maintenance man.
"It has all been a learning experience," Gail Palmer said. "But we love it. And I'm very confident now that I could run any business."