10 Questions for Joanna Guidotti, Innkeeper, Churchill Manor Bed and Breakfast

What three people would you most like to have dinner with?
Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Jesus Christ.

What job would you like to try/not like to try?
Try: Psychology research.
Not try: Anything to do with flying.

What was your first job?
My first real job was as a legal secretary in my dad’s law office, in Oakland, which I did every summer after turning 13. It was hard work for a kid, as my dad had very high standards and expectations, but it caused me to develop a strong work ethic that has served me well since then.

What’s the worst job you ever had?
Working at the Brickpile at St. Mary’s College in Moraga my sophomore year. Part of my job was to clean out the frosty ice cream machine at the end of my shift and toss the leftover ice cream. Yeah, right, with my clean-your-plate upbringing? I gained 20 pounds.

How did you get into this business?
Brian and I met in San Mateo when he was an engineer turning general contractor and I was a tax lawyer turned investment banker at Bank of America in San Francisco. Brian longed for his Montana lifestyle and found Napa, and coaxed me into following him here. As a 33-year-old female vice president in 1987, I was tired of corporate politics and ready for something new. We stumbled upon Churchill Manor through pure destiny. It was heading into foreclosure and we took a chance. Despite predictions of certain failure, we’re still here, and loving it, two kids and 19 years later.

What is your most treasured possession?
My grandfather’s 1954 Ford pickup and his mandolin. When I was small, he would take me out in the fields in Orland and let me steer his truck. After dinner, he would play “La Donna e Mobile” on his mandolin and we would sing together in Italian.

Who do you most admire in the business world?
Of course the icons like Bill Gates, but I truly admire my family. My dad at 87, past city councilman and mayor of Orinda, still practices law after six decades; my mom, whose family couldn’t afford to send her to college, still managed to attend law school, pass the bar at age 60, and has gone on to win several cases; my Renaissance husband, who has restored Churchill Manor inch by inch over the past 19 years, along with becoming our wedding chef for the last 15 years.

What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I haven’t stepped into an airplane in 20 years.

What’s your favorite weekend retreat?
As innkeepers, we’ve rarely have weekends off, or vacations for that matter. It’s pretty much of a 24/7 lifestyle — which is OK for adults, but it’s tough on kids. Last year, when our boys turned 9 and 12, we discovered boating at Steele Park marina at Lake Berryessa. What a beautiful spot, and a world apart, yet only 20 miles from Churchill Manor in case of an emergency. We really do live in paradise here.

What other business person(s) would you like to see featured in “10 Questions?”
Patricia and Mark Uffelman of Patricia Mark Photography.

~ The 11th question for Joanna Guidotti ~

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Clearly, Sept. 11. It devastated our business for months. Anticipating that the 2002 slow season would be more of a “no” season, we took a chance and decided to try to “make lemonade out of lemons.” We shut down the inn for three months and undertook a major restoration of the mansion’s common areas, something we could never do when we were full. Brian removed walls and totally rebuilt the overhead trolleys so that the massive redwood pocket doors could slide again. We refinished floors, reupholstered furniture, added new custom drapes, wall coverings, carpeting, and lighting. It still feels good to have something positive to contrast the tragedy of Sept. 11.