May 22, 2024

Episode 131

Mary Celeste Beall


Located in the Great Smoky Mountains in Walland, Tennessee, the 68-room Blackberry Farm is a verdant escape known for its food, wine, and Southern hospitality. The small inn was originally purchased by Samuel E. Beall III (known as Sandy), founder of the Ruby Tuesday chain, and his wife, Kreis, in 1976. After adding land and more buildings, it blossomed into the exclusive property it is today.

In 1998, Sandy’s son and Mary Celeste’s husband, Sam, took it over, transforming it into a culinary powerhouse and must-visit getaway tucked away in East Tennessee.

After Sam’s unexpected passing in 2016, Mary Celeste became proprietor while raising her five children. Mary Celeste, who has a degree in accounting, didn’t shy away from the challenge. In fact, she credits the power of believing in herself for ushering the resort into its next—and most exciting—era yet.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: I’m here today with Mary Celeste Beall of Blackberry Farm. How are you today?

Mary Celeste Beall: I am great. How are you doing?

SSR: Good. Thanks so much for joining us, super excited. As I said, I’m a huge fan of what you do, so excited to hear your story. Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

MCB: I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.

SSR: Okay. What were you like as a kid? Were you creative?

MCB: I’m the youngest of four and we did have a very active family. My mom’s an artist, so I was definitely playing around in her art studio, and I was also playing a lot of tennis, super active, really just keeping up with my older siblings and probably driving them crazy.

An view of the Great Smoky Mountains at Blackberry Mountain in Tennessee; photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm

SSR: Got it. Did you travel as a kid? Were there ever any early inklings of hospitality could become part of your every day?

MCB: We traveled a lot, really just for tennis tournaments and things like that. We went to the beach and things. But the place that I saw the hospitality mostly in my life as a young child was my grandmother and my mother. Both loved to entertain. My grandmother was an incredible cook. She had this little blowtorch that she would finish the crème brulee with on Thanksgiving. She was amazing. It was really about opening our homes and entertaining at home was really the place that I saw hospitality at a young age.

SSR: Got it. What did you go to school for?

MCB: I went to a liberal arts school, a small school in Virginia. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I studied art history, I even took some anthropology classes. Then I ended up marrying my husband and we transferred from our small schools in Virginia to University of Tennessee. I decided to be a little more practical, because I was going to a big school and I just couldn’t imagine switching from these tiny art history and art classes at a tiny school to a big, giant university setting, so I decided to get my master’s in tax accounting.

I really have this crazy combination of where I am very right brain and left brain. My dad was a lawyer and my mom was an artist, like I said. I love both sides of the brain. Not that anyone doesn’t, but I have this interesting mix of the two.

SSR: Yeah. Which sets you up for great success. You and Sam met, you got married. How did Blackberry come about, the opportunity?

MCB: Well, his parents actually bought the farm in 1976. He was born and moved to Blackberry when he was just a few months old. They actually bought it to be their home. Then they decided that, to pay the bills, they were going to open it up to different groups on the weekends and do small things with different groups, and it really turned into a business. They decorated it with wedding gifts and furniture that they found at antique stores, and they just pieced it together. Then eventually, they moved down to Alabama. They always had Blackberry and it was the one home that was in my husband’s life his whole life. But because of his dad’s work, his dad started Ruby Tuesday restaurants here in Knoxville, Tennessee, when he was in college at the University of Tennessee. Because of Ruby Tuesdays growth, they moved as a family to Alabama because Ruby Tuesdays headquarters, it was bought by a company called Morrisons. Anyway-

SSR: No, I love it.

MCB: They moved there when he was in first grade. We met in high school. That is how I got introduced to Blackberry, was as juniors in high school, he surprised me and said, “I’m picking you up tomorrow morning.” After this big dance he was like, “I’m picking you up tomorrow morning to give you your Christmas present.” I was like, “Tomorrow morning? That’s in seven hours.” I put on my same clothes that I had on that night because I was spending the night with a friend, and he picked me up and surprised me, and said, “I’m taking you to Blackberry Farm for a few days with my family.” The rest is history.

SSR: Aw, I love that. First let’s go back because Ruby Tuesdays was such a big part of my childhood, that’s amazing. What did you all learn from Sam’s father, Sandy, correct? What did you learn from him about hospitality and entrepreneurship?

MCB: Well, I will say both Sam’s parents, his mother is Kreis and his dad is Sandy, they are both really entrepreneurial. They are great hosts and hostesses, and they just love taking care of people so I’ve learned a lot from both of them.

I’d say from Sandy, I am still learning. He’s super involved at Blackberry these days. I would say don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid to take some risk. And really, really looking at the people that you are surrounding yourself with and who is doing a great job. From both of them, for sure, is just because someone might come to you with one skillset doesn’t mean that’s where they’re going to end or that it doesn’t mean that’s their final role with you. Sam, my husband, was really good at identifying that as well. It’s like if someone has a great attitude or a willingness to serve and just a heart for hospitality, then we can train them to do the different job.

It’s been amazing to see, over the 20 years that I’ve been living in Tennessee and focused on Blackberry, is the transition of people that have started as a dishwasher or a server in the restaurant, and where they’ve ended up, it’s pretty amazing.

Then my mother-in-law, I will say I’ve learned so much from her. We could do a whole podcast on what I’ve learned from my in-laws, honestly. But both of them, I’ve learned believing how important it is for someone to believe in you and the power of someone knowing that you believe in them, it’s just transformative. That really played a really big role for me when Sam passed away. I’m just jumping the gun here, I’m sure you’re going to ask about that.

My husband, Sam, died in 2016 in a ski accident, very suddenly. Literally, days later after his service, my father-in-law came to me and said, “Kreis and I have talked, and we really think you should take over as proprietor of Blackberry.”

Of course, there are things you remember and there’s things you just completely don’t remember because it’s such a fog, but I just remember thinking, “Wow, this is their baby. They started this almost 40 years ago, and Sam was so good at leading Blackberry.” I was flattered, overwhelmed. Like, “Wait, hold on, I’ve got five kids and I just lost my husband. How can I do this?” But I also just really appreciated them saying, “We think you can do this. It’s our baby and we really trust you and we believe in you.” It really was so powerful. It still is because they are so encouraging, even today. We’re eight years later, here we are.

SSR:How did you put each foot in front of the other? You had five kids, just lost your husband unexpectedly. Your high school sweetheart. How did you pick yourself up? I know they give you the encouragement, but then how did you do that?

MCB: I was so fortunate that I had an incredible community that really was so supportive. For one thing, our team at Blackberry … When Sam passed away, we were planning Blackberry Mountain, but we really hadn’t gotten incredibly far. We’d been working on it for 10 years, but we hadn’t really solidified exactly what we were doing. But I say that because he was in a mode of saying, “Okay, if we’re going to do this next thing,” and he was also working on some other things outside of Tennessee. But he had already said, “I need the operations piece of Blackberry Farm to be in a really great place,” so that he could be thinking outside the box, thinking of what’s next, be more visionary, which he was very visionary.

We had this incredible team in place that was keeping the fires lit. They were taking care of the day-to-day. Sam, he was super involved in certain things, but he was not super involved in the housekeeping standards and certain things that he had moved on from. Of course, housekeeping is super important, but he had put people in place that were taking care of things like that. I felt very confident saying, “Okay, the operation of Blackberry every day is an amazing place because we have a veteran team.” We had people that had been at Blackberry for 10, 15, 20 years. Almost all of those key people are still here today, which is really amazing and it’s so fantastic because they knew Sam, they knew his vision, they love Blackberry and now, we are all working together to just continue making things great and doing the best we can to continue to evolve.

But I will say personally, I happen to have this incredible nanny who she’s like a daughter, I love her. She had just decided to move into a role at Blackberry, non-nanny role. Then Sam passed away and she was like, “Okay, just kidding, I’m coming back.” She and my friends were so supportive. But also, my in-laws. They said, “Okay, how can we support you? You can do this.” At first, literally I remember my father-in-law sitting down with me and he was like, “Okay, this is your schedule.” He was like, “You’re going to do these meetings on Monday, you’re going to do these meetings on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, you’re going to catch up.” Because I was like, “Wait, hold on. My children need me.” I had a three-year-old to an 18-year-old.

SSR: What?

MCB: Yeah. It just worked. I will also say that I wasn’t the mom, because I had five children three to 18 … As soon as I went to four children, five children, everyone knew I was not going to be at everything.

SSR: Yeah, you can’t be.

MCB: Even when Sam was alive, there was no way that I could be doing everything for everyone. My kids were used to a babysitter tucking them in if I was at dinner at Blackberry for an event with Sam. There were a lot of parts of our life that didn’t have to feel different because the nature of having so many kids is that you’re busy and you’re pulled in a lot of directions. If I wasn’t at a child’s soccer game, that wasn’t unusual. Or if I didn’t pick up from school, that wasn’t unusual. But I will say that having the pressure of now being the only parent, and being everything … Sam and I could divide and conquer, and now we can’t do that. But it’s working.

Glass surrounds a guestroom at Blackberry Farm; photo courtesy of Blackberry MountainSSR: You make it work.

MCB: They miss their dad. But we cannot bring him back so we’re just charging on.

A guestroom at Blackberry Farm. Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm

SSR:  I think that’s the good, bad thing about being a working parent is they become a little more resilient because you’re not around, you just can’t do it all, especially with five. So impressed that you made it all work.

Let’s go back a little bit. Blackberry was a family estate, and then you and Sam evolved it into this amazing resort and destination. For those that haven’t been, describe what you two created, and then we can dive more into it.

MCB: Blackberry Farm is in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. It’s about 25 minutes from the Knoxville Airport, which is great. Blackberry Farm is at the end of West Miller’s Cove, so it’s down this peaceful two-lane road that basically dead ends into Blackberry. The fact that my in-laws bought this in 1976 and had this vision of bringing people to Walland, Tennessee. No one knew what Walland was before Blackberry, except for some smart people that had just found it.

But anyway, what’s neat about Blackberry Farm is that it is adjacent to the Smoky Mountain National Park. We have 4200 acres, and then the park is over 100,000 acres. Technically, someone could hike from Blackberry to Maine, and jump on the Appalachian Trail. We’re really close to the park, and we have a lot of hikes and hiking trails. We have a creek for fishing, fly-fishing. We have an equestrian program.

Then our farm and our garden is a really big piece of what we do because Sam always had the dream, and he brought it to reality, of having a working farm where we have sheep, we’re milking the sheep, we’re making cheese on the farm. We have chickens, we have pigs, we have turkeys. The garden, we live right next to the garden because that was just Sam’s ultimate dream was to have produce fresh from the garden. Our kitchens really find so much inspiration in the garden and the kitchen also inspires the garden. We’re growing some really unusual things. We don’t focus on things like corn. We grow tomatoes, but we don’t grow your traditional corn that our local farmers can grow.

We do different kinds of corn that we can mill. We have an incredible heirloom variety program, where we’re … John Coykendall, who is our master gardener, he’s an amazing soul. But he is bringing back to life things that were grown in our cove forever ago. It’s pretty amazing.

Anyway, long story short, that’s Blackberry Farm. Then in 2019, we opened Blackberry Mountain, which is down East Miller’s Cove. So they’re at the end of this cove, and the mountain, it has more views of the park. Instead of being adjacent to the National Park, it looks at the park. It’s about 1000 feet higher in elevation. For being 25 minutes away from Blackberry Farm, they have so much in common but they’re so different. It’s been really amazing because we opened it after 30 plus years of the farm, so we were able to take a lot of things that we’d learned and implement them there, but also make it different. It feels different. They are really very different places, even though they’re 25 minutes apart. It’s really, really been one of my most exciting parts of the last eight years, has been bringing something to life from scratch.

It is really, really amazing to see just the team energy, the guests’ energy, and how both properties can be very close together but feel very different, but have the same core foundation of amazing service and great food, adventure, wellness and be very close to each other.

SSR: Yeah. How did you make it different? What lessons did you learn from Blackberry that you took to Mountain?

MCB: Well, we’re constantly evaluating both. We tried new things at the Mountain, and then if that worked we’re like, “Oh wait, let’s bring that philosophy back here.” But they’re still very different.

But what’s really so different about them is that Blackberry Farm is nestled in the cove, so it’s very pastoral. For you to go into the woods, if you want to go hiking, you really go to the trail head and then you go on a hike, and then you come back out, then you’re seeing the sheep in the fields. But at the Mountain, we really wanted to weave the hiking and the cycling, well the cycling is harder there because it’s major elevation.

But we really wanted to weave the hiking into the experience, similar for me to going skiing, where you ski to lunch. Or you make your way somewhere on skis, and then you have a lunch, and then you ski down. We created 25 miles of hiking trails. Instead of saying, “Okay, I am going on a hike, here’s the trail head …” Clearly, we do that, we have all these trail heads there. But it’s like you can hike to lunch, you can hike to breakfast, you could hike to dinner. Surprisingly, not as many people hike to dinner. Actually, I’m not surprised. But you could. If you wanted to hike to dinner, you could, but people tend to want to be fresh and clean for dinner.

But anyway, the Mountain is very vertical and it has just incredible views. At both properties, you can do a lot of the same activities, but they’re just approached a little differently. The Mountain has a little bit more of an adventurous side. We have things like bouldering, and rock climbing. We have an indoor climbing wall. There, we have so many trails, as I mentioned. We also have single track cycling trails.

Then the food piece is we thought if we’re going to do this other property, it doesn’t make sense to repeat what we’re doing at the farm. We’re very cognizant of making it a different experience, but it’s still about great quality ingredients, great flavor, it’s just a little different. We let the chefs at the Mountain be a little more exploratory, as far as flavor wise, and less focused on regional flavors. They’re just so different. It’s really hard to describe.

But I will also say that the Mountain has never been developed. It’s 5,200 acres. We were building everything from scratch.

The interiors and the architecture, we wanted it to be inspired by the land. We used a lot of stone that we harvested on the property. Then we did a lot of glass, but we didn’t want it to feel too modern. It’s a mix of rustic stone … The exteriors, the architecture is rustic stone with a lot of glass, and then great taking advantage of the views. As far as interiors go, it really was all about how do we maximize the view and the connection to the outside, and how do we bring the outside in and just do these great colors, but simple and clean, and edited but not just a neutral palette. It has a good energy.

SSR: Yeah. You have cottages and cabins, right? It’s set up almost like a sprawling, not sprawling because it’s still intimate.

MCB: I’ll just give a quick overview of both. The Farm, the main house was the original structure, it’s the home that Sam and his family lived in. Then, everything grew from the main house. At the main house, we have original rooms that we’ve edited over time, but as you can imagine, they can only get so big. Those are our state rooms. Then around the main house, we have a few different versions of cottages. Then over on the farmstead, at the farm, closer to the barn, and the dairy, and the barn restaurant, we have more cottages. At the farm, we really have a mix of rooms that are in a building with other rooms to private cottages.

At the Mountain, we made a very intentional decision to have everything be a cottage. I guess, that would be one of our lessons learned was we decided, especially the geography of the mountain really didn’t lend itself to having one big building anywhere unless it was down in the valley. We decided that what we would do is do different individual cottages, so there’s a variety. There’s the stone cottages, and then up on the top of the mountain, we did something really neat and we have what are called the watchman’s cabins. Those are really neat.

Then after we’d opened, we had this dream of doing some tree houses. Everything was going great and we were like, “Well, why not just do them now?” We went ahead and did the tree houses. Those were really neat because, A, they feel very different from all the other. They’re very, very edited interiors. Literally, it’s like an envelope of white oak.

SSR: Oh, wow.

MCB: No drapery. It’s very clean and simple. But what was neat about those is that we were able to do them in a way that really didn’t disrupt the location. They’re on a hillside, they’re really tucked into this really wooded area. Because they’re tree houses and they’re built without a foundation, we were able to really plop them into the woods so you really feel like you’re in the trees. It’s pretty great. They’re pretty amazing.

SSR: It sounds amazing. The vistas there, the lake, and all the activities you have. And it’s still very undeveloped there, right? You guys are one of the only resorts nearby? Yeah?

MCB: Yes, 100 percent. I would say there’s some little hotels and motels in a town near us called Townsend, which is right at the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park. The entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park by car. But there’s really nothing similar to us in our area. A lot of people would say … We get a lot of awards and we’re recognized as a top hotel in the country, in the world. I feel like I can confidently say there’s nothing in the East Tennessee area that compares to Blackberry.

Scenic views surround Blackberry Farm. Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm

SSR: Why do you think it resonates so much with guests? To your point, it’s in Tennessee, it’s not a huge tourist area. I guess the park is. But what do you think resonates so much about this place? Because everyone calls it magical. If you talk to anyone whose ever been there, they say it’s like nothing they’ve ever experienced. Why do you think that is? 

MCB: That is a really good question. I really think that what’s special about Blackberry is the way that people feel when they’re there.

I think that is for a lot of reasons. Of course, it’s beautiful. Mother Nature and my in-laws picked this really beautiful spot so we’re starting with something … The land is really special, it’s very picturesque. The mountain, the views are amazing and it’s stunning. You’re just blown away by the natural beauty so we have that going for us, for sure. But I think that what we have done at the farm, and I’m saying we meaning my in-laws, my husband, our incredible team, is really unique.

I think that there are … Farm-to-table, that’s what gained a lot of popularity over the years, but we didn’t do it because it was popular, we did it because that’s what we should be doing. Our neighbors are farmers. We should be eating seasonally. We should be eating regionally. It just is how we should be doing it.

That was just really natural to the farm. I think that we have a team that is just really welcoming. We do so many different things at both properties that that’s the thing that’s hard for people to understand until they’ve been there, is someone could come to either property and say, “Okay, all I want to do is be outside, I want to sit by a creek some in a hammock, I want to relax, but then I want to hike, and do yoga. I don’t want to drink, and I want to just relax and just enjoy being in Mother Nature,” you could do that at both properties. You could also say, “Oh my gosh, I love cycling. I want to push myself, I want to get better at cycling.” Or, “I want to try mountain biking, I’ve never done that.” You could be an extreme athlete, or on the relaxed train, or you could do it all and relax.

But also, we do weird things like we do farmstead tours. Not that that’s weird. But people love going to see the animals. That’s not weird at all. There’s such a range.

The same person could do a whiskey tasting, or taste 100-point wines, and then they could also go pet the puppies and learn about the turkey, Tom the turkey. There’s just a big range of things that we do, and I think that it creates an opportunity for people to come as a family or come as a couple. We don’t have golf. For a long time people would say, “Oh, my husband’s never coming because you don’t have golf.” Then I would meet a couple and they would say, “She finally got me here because it took forever because you don’t have a golf course.” Guess what? He would look at me and say, “This has been the best vacation we’ve ever had.” Because he wasn’t trying to go play golf. Instead, he was-

SSR: He was around.

MCB: Doing something with her. Or they went shooting together. We have a shooting course. I think it just is a place, both places honestly, are places that people come and they connect. They connect with each other, they connect with new friends if they come for a group event, or they connect with Mother Nature. It’s taking time away from your reality is such an investment in making your reality better. Because I think that you have to take a breath, you have to take time away so that you can really look back on what am I do every day, what am I doing every year and come back with a better lens.

SSR: Right. A new perspective, a reset.

MCB: Yeah, for sure.

SSR: Which I think people are looking for now more than ever, right?

MCB: Yeah. I think that we’re all doing so much, we have constant flow of information, we have so many demands on us because we can do more things faster, and we can be in touch with more people faster. Even as a parent, I have five children and three of them are out of the house now. I’ll think, “Oh, that one is doing this this week,” or blah, blah, blah. Then all of a sudden, I’m spending 20 minutes back and forth texting them about something that I totally didn’t have on my radar for the day. But of course, they’re my child and I’m helping them. Just the ability to communicate as such a fast speed, and under the radar of just asking someone anything, any time does put this burden on us all. Because it’s like, “Wait, am I answering now or am I waiting?” They’ve inserted themselves into your day and you have that judgement of, “Okay, now I’ve read this. How am I dealing?

SSR: Right. Totally.

MCB: I love that you can come to Blackberry, and yes there’s plenty of cell service now. I used to love it when we had no cell service, it was so great. But you can definitely stay super connected, but I also think it’s a great time to say to your kids, or your sitter, or whatever, “Hey, I’m going to check my phone in the morning and the night because I don’t have great signal.”

SSR: Yeah, and be like, “Sorry.” Are any of your children joining the business as they get older?

MCB: Well, right now my oldest is only 26. She is a writer for Southern Living. Well, she’s the associate homes editor, but she does a lot of writing. We have a lot of overlap in that she loves to cook, she loves to entertain. She loves to travel. She loves music. There’s a lot of things that we’re doing at Blackberry that she’s writing about or she loves. She is really interested in hospitality. Who knows where that’ll go? Then they all grew up cooking in the kitchen with their dad. We love to entertain. They love to cook now. They participate when they’re home and we have a special event or something. Who knows? We’ll see.

SSR: Yeah. Speaking of events, you guys do a lot of different curated events. Besides the activities, you really have made Blackberry Farm and Mountain a destination with some of your, not activities, what’s the word? Events, I guess, throughout the year. Has that been something that you’ve always done or you’re doing more of?

MCB: It’s funny. My mother-in-law had Jacques Pepin to Blackberry for a cooking class in I think it was the ’80s. I should know this, but it was either ’80s or early ’90s. My in-laws would have these house parties. There’s always been just this element of gathering people together around something fun, whether it’s a topic or a personality. Then my husband really took that to the next level in the 2000s, bringing in guest winemakers, guest chefs, which we’ve continued to this day.

Really, all of our events have grown around things we’re interested in. As my husband started cycling and he was like, “Well, why not get a great cycling coach? If I want to do this, I bet other people do.” Then our cycling program grew. We’re continuing to do that. We love music, we have different concerts throughout the year, that’s always fun. Even today …

One thing we haven’t touched on is we have a third property that a lot of people don’t know about. We don’t really combine them online because Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain are so similar, but our third property is just its own different animal. But it’s called High Hampton Inn and it’s Cashiers, North Carolina. It was owned by the same family for 100 years. It was really a summer place, it had no air conditioning, no heat. It was really open May to October. It’s just got its own … It’s very Dirty Dancing-esque.

A screened in porch at Blackberry Farm. Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm

SSR: Got it.

MCB: But the reason I’m bringing it up is, A, I think it’s really special. It’s very different than the Farm and Mountain, but it’s special in its own way. The rates are different. When you go online and see that the rates are much lower, don’t be thinking, “Oh, I’m getting the bargain version of Blackberry,” because it’s just a different animal.

The point is, this morning I had a call with someone about doing a Mahjong event there. I don’t play. After talking to her, I was like, “Oh my gosh. When you come, I’m making sure that I’m going to be there because I want to learn.”

That’s one of the things that I think is special about our different events is people come, maybe they come because the husband or the wife is interested in cycling, but then they meet all these other people and they make these connections. I feel like the future of hospitality, at least we’ve been doing it for a long time but it’s definitely a big part of our future, is continuing to offer things that bring people together, whether it’s about a common interest, or a personality, or something. It’s really magical, what happens when you bring a group together that are interested in something similar that have never met each other and then they spend time together at Blackberry.

SSR: I have to ask, as an editor of a magazine. You also have a magazine dedicated to all things Blackberry, including these sessions and other activities happening. I was just reading earlier, before we got on the phone, you’ve just refreshed the main house right, at Blackberry Farms?

MCB: Yes. Yeah. The magazine has been really fun. I think what’s been so fun about it for me and our team especially, and I think our readers are really enjoying it, is that it’s about what we love to do and it’s not about Blackberry. It’s about Blackberry life. Every article is not directly connected to what we’re doing on the Farm or the Mountain, but it’s maybe we’ve connected with a writer, or a photographer, or a chef or something, and then we ask them about a topic that has nothing specifically related to Blackberry. It’s been really fun because it’s our world but it’s not a newsletter. It’s not like, “Hey, this is what’s happening at Blackberry.” It’s just things we’re interested in and that we think our guests would be interested in. It’s a really fun exploration of things related to Blackberry so it’s really been fun.

Oh, the refresh. Yeah. That was a really fun project because … Blackberry Farm Design is our design team that focuses on our property projects, but they also do residential projects for people outside of Blackberry. But for me, it’s so fun to work with them on projects on property. The main house was one that, it is the original main house, it’s the living room. When you walk in the main house, it is literally where people have been walking in to Blackberry Farm since the ’30s. It was really important for us to give it a fresh look, but to make it still feel like our family, like the property.

As soon as we started talking about the project I said, “Let’s walk through and talk about what has to stay and what can go.” There were certain pieces that have been there since day one. Like this mirror that one of my in-laws good friend’s mother’s good friends lent them. It’s this gorgeous mirror in the living room. Probably 10 years ago, Kreis’ mom’s friend’s child had said, “Hey, can we get that mirror back?” Kreis and Sandy were like, “Okay, wait. It has been here for almost 40 years, we have to keep it.”

We worked something out with them. It was really fun to give it a fresh look. Then we kept some art, some original art that’s really traditional, but then we mixed in some modern pieces and pieces from an artist. Ida Kohlmeyer is an artist who passed away, but she showed her pieces in New Orleans. My mother-in-law had a piece when I first met my husband, she had an Ida Kohlmeyer, and I’d always loved that artist. She still has pieces by her. It’s very contemporary art so it’s a great way that it tells the family story but it’s new and different.

But I’m really proud of our team and they’ve done a great job. They’re always updating. We’re constantly looking at different spaces and how they can be refreshed. That was also really rewarding, at the Mountain, was defining the look of this project, and then bringing that to life as well. Our team did all that, Blackberry Farm Design did that, too.

SSR: Right. Well, it must have been fun to, as you said, to keep evolving but still hold on to the legacy that it is. It must be a fine line, too. You got to keep the old but bring in the new, but it must be a fun challenge to do.

MCB: Yeah, it is. I think that’s really the whole thing that we’re doing at all of our properties, is I’m second generation, my husband was second generation and I’m his generation, and then at some point, hopefully maybe, one of my kids, they’ll be third generation. That’s how we’ve evolved is what do we love, what’s important to us, how do we bring it to live in a way that our guests will appreciate and enjoy it, and I feel like that’s the same for the interiors. It’s a constant update, keep it evolving, but keep the roots, and the personality and the foundation of Blackberry alive through all of it.

SSR: Yeah. I love that it’s layered. It feels comfortable, yet it’s elegant, yet brings in the views. It does a little bit of everything. It definitely has that residential look, but in such a very, I don’t even know how to explain it, but just a very layered look that I really love, that I feel like it has that depth and soul that you need. That probably lends itself to why this place feels so special.

MCB: Well, I do think you hit on something important, is the residential piece. Because we always want Blackberry to feel like you’re being welcomed into our home and the main house was my in-law’s and Sam’s home, and his little brother, David. It was their home. Even the Mountain, even though we didn’t take a home and transition it into the property, we want people to feel there’s a heart and a soul, and there really is.

It really goes beyond just our family, it’s our team. They pour their hearts and souls into the guests’ experience every day, seven days a week, 24/7, 365. I think that really what sets Blackberry apart is our people and the way they make the guests feel and that is something that you can’t really replace. I’m very, very thankful for the incredible people that make Blackberry what it is.

SSR: Speaking of that, your chefs and your food has really been known for leading the South’s culinary renaissance and continues to do. How do you continue to elevate both the F&B, and also the wellness? Which has become more important than ever.

MCB: It’s really crazy because between just the two Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain properties, we have six restaurants. We have six executive chefs. Actually, we might be on seven. Hold on. Josh, Feathers, Trevor. Yes, at the Farm, we now have four executive chefs, and then at the Mountain, we have three executive chefs. It’s so fun. So many of them have been around forever. They’ve all worked, they all knew Sam. Which that’s not a prerequisite for being a chef at Blackberry, but I love that they knew. They’ve had dinner in our house with him, they’ve seen how crazy he was in the kitchen. In a good way crazy, just making a mess and not afraid to lay a whole lamb out on the counter, and salt and pepper all over the entire kitchen.

It’s very chef driven. I feel like they know that it’s about quality ingredients, it’s about consistent delivery and really not trying to do too much, meaning make sure we can execute at a high level. It’s also we’re very lucky, in a way, because if a guest comes to Blackberry say Sunday night and something goes wrong at their dinner, or maybe they come to dinner and they’re in a fight, but they want to say that their steak is not cooked right but really they’re just mad at their wife. That happens. But anyway, they might say that they didn’t have a great experience at dinner, but we have a chance to catch up with them because it’s not like they’re walking out and they’re walking down the street, and never coming back.

They are coming back to dinner at one of our restaurants. Well first, they’re coming to breakfast or lunch. We have this ability to communicate and say, “Hey, these people thought dinner was too salty,” or, “These people don’t like artichokes,” or, “Make sure you don’t put onion because they’re allergic.” We have an opportunity to really take great care of these people and all their dietaries, and all their particularities that so many diners have these days. That’s an interesting piece.

Also, our chefs can work together. They can say, “Okay, morels are in right now,” and they’re great about making sure they’re not all doing the same morel dish. They all have their own personalities and each restaurant has its own focus, so that’s pretty special.

Gardens populate Blackberry Farm; photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm

SSR: Amazing. Then wellness, how are you guys imagining that or thinking through that?

MCB: Wellness is a huge part of what we’re doing. First of all, I think anyone who can get outside is probably going to be the healthiest person they can be, is just spending that time outside in the fresh air, and grounding, and exploring. That’s an opportunity at both properties.

But we’re continuing to evolve. We’re bringing in different personalities. We’re hosting really special yoga retreats. But we also have this team that’s focused every day, at the Farm and the Mountain, on things from yoga classes, meditation. We just did a deep healing woods event at the Farm, where there’s a lot of time spent getting into the woods, hiking, meditating, really enjoying being in Mother Nature to slow down.

I feel like wellness has so many ways that you can think about it, but I feel like it’s the whole picture. At Blackberry Farm and Mountain, I feel like you can get what you need. At the Mountain, people are really enjoying sound bathing, meditation, hiking, eating really well, eating clean. But also for some people, maybe their wellness means okay, I’m having an incredible mocktail, and then I’m having one glass of amazing Chablis.

I think wellness is very personal. But the main thing to me is taking yourself outside of your every day and giving yourself that time and space to really figure out what you need and letting other people take care of you is a really great way to take care of yourself.

SSR: Yeah, 100%. What is one thing people might not know about you through all this?

MCB: One thing that people might not know about me? That I have an incredibly messy office at home. I’m dying to clean it out. Every time that I clean it out, I get halfway done and then, suddenly I’m having a dinner party, or whatever. As soon as I get it cleaned out, then my children are like, “School’s out, here’s my art portfolio.” I love my kids’ art so I have so many little piles of things that I’m like, “I’m going to want to look at this again.” Anyway, yes, I have a very messy office.

SSR: Is your home close to Blackberry?

MCB: I live on the Farm, yes.

SSR: Oh you do? Okay. That’s amazing. Is your life work life balance, or does it al just intertwine?

MCB: Oh, God. There is no work life balance. But I will say the one thing that I’m working on, and I’m doing a much better job, is concentric circles. If I can do something that involves work with my children or a friend, or it’s something I love, I’m like, “Boom, we’re really checking some boxes.” It is really nice, I have to say, that my children really love Blackberry and they love High Hampton also. If I can tag them in to doing something with me, where I can be interacting with our guests or our team and they can be with me, it’s really amazing and I feel very fortunate that I can do that. Also, I think it’s a great way for them to learn. They have opinions, too.

SSR: I’m sure. Kids do. I love the term concentric circles, I might steal that at some point. I have loved our conversation, hate to end it, but we also end the podcast with the question that is the title of the podcast. Through everything you’ve been through, what has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?

MCB: I have learned so much, but I’ll say two things that I’ve learned. I did touch on one earlier, is the power of believing in someone or the power of believing in yourself, having someone believe in you. I think that you have to pay it forward and you have to show when you believe in someone else. Just that whole believing is incredibly powerful.

Then I also will say that showing up is huge. Whether it’s for a friend who’s going through something hard, or when you feel like you need to show up, like a friend that just is texting you and they’re not answering your call, maybe you need to pop by and visit. I just think showing up and being yourself is so important. In today’s world, with social media and everything, just showing up.

Today, I knew we were doing this, but when I was running out the door this morning to take my kids to school, I was like, “Oh, shoot. Wait, is this a video? I didn’t put on any makeup.” I’m like, “Oh well, who cares?” This is me. This is me. I think don’t be afraid to show up even if you’re feeling not 100% yourself, is maybe you need to show up because maybe someone’s going to speak into you or you’re going to share something that they need to hear when you’re not feeling 100%.

SSR: Yeah. I love that. The power of showing up, the power of checking in. You’re such an inspiration and I’ve loved this conversation. Can’t wait to see what you all keep doing. Thank you for taking this time to share your beautiful story with us.

MCB: You are welcome. Thank you so much. I appreciate you including me, it was fun.