As traveling vegans know, it’s often hard to find plant-based food outside of big cities. But in the small town of Kettle Falls, Washington, a vegan encountering Gardenview Estate B&B might think that they’re dreaming, or experiencing a mirage. Not only is Gardenview a vegan establishment, but it sits on a huge, gorgeous and historic property full of wildlife. I visited in early fall to find out how this place came to be and to eat a delicious vegan waffle.
Why is there a vegan B&B in Kettle Falls?
You might be asking yourself, how did a town of 1,650, 30 miles south of the Canadian border manage to get a vegan bed and breakfast? It’s thanks to owners Jenelle and Tom Cruz. The couple were living in Vancouver, Washington during the pandemic, where Jenelle was a dietician for the Veterans Administration and Tom worked in information technology. Jenelle’s parents, who lived in Kettle Falls, fell in love with a property that had just come up for sale. They offered the younger couple the opportunity to move to Kettle Falls and manage it. Tom and Jenelle flew up to check it out.
“It took us less than 24 hours to decide we couldn’t say no to such a gift. Even thought it was kind of scary,” Jenelle said as she showed me around the property on a warm afternoon. It was a big change to leave the Vancouver/Portland metro area to come to such a small town. However, Jenelle and Tom love the nature and wildlife of their new home. “Plus, being able to run a vegan business and not have to work around animal products feels really good for me.” Are the guests vegan? Jenelle doesn’t have hard stats, but she guesses at least 25% are.
Gardenview is booked solidly during the area’s gorgeous summer. When things slow down during Kettle Falls’ snowy winter, Jenelle likes to travel with girlfriends. She and Tom have settled in well, but she does miss some big city amenities.
“I miss being able to get great vegan food delivered at midnight by Uber Eats,” she said. “I enjoy cooking very much, but sometimes I just want somebody else to do it for me.” The trek to the nearest commercial airport in Spokane is also much longer.
The B&B has a fascinating history. It was originally a Christian mission. Then some nuns, the Sisters of Providence, came from Spokane and operated a school called Sacred Heat Academy from 1873 until 1921. After that, the grounds were vacant for a decade or so before a German Dominican order of nuns bought the property in 1934, renaming it Our Lady of the Valley Convent. They ran a school for several decades. In the 1970s, the estate became a boys’ reform school. In the 1980s, a family bought the property and decided to turn it into a bed and breakfast. They demolished the giant building that once housed up to 200 people and reduced the main building to its present size.
Lots of interesting relics of the past remain with notably a small cemetery. Most of the nuns were exhumed and reinterred in Spokane in 2011, but a couple of people are still buried onsite. There’s also a rock grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary, a large cross on one building and crown of thorn trees. These strange trees were brought over from German by the Dominican sisters and really do look exactly like the crown Jesus is often pictured wearing.
Alive with wildlife
Many types of wildlife call the estate and its environments home. Deer and wild turkeys are the most frequent to show their faces. Indeed, on our way to Kettle Falls, we stopped and waited for a whole flock to saunter across the road. The turkeys especially like to hang out by the cemetery, according to Jenelle. Elk prefer a field just beyond our view.
“We have a bald eagle pair that lives at the river,” Jenelle said. ”They have their nest there. And they have two youths who haven’t developed their white heads yet. They’ll come right up in the yard and hunt. It’s amazing to watch so close to the house.”
As for bigger animals, Jenelle has seen evidence but not the critters themselves. “We also do have moose,” she said. “I’ve never seen one, but my parents got a video of one swimming across the river.” She also regularly sees bear scat, and wolves have been migrating down from Canada. Coyotes — Jenelle has seen and heard. “They mostly hang out at the river. But sometimes I will see them in this valley. The young ones like to play. I wish they weren’t scary because they’re so cute. You’ll see them rolling in the grass and wagging their tails down there.”
A barn full of bats
One of Gardenview’s most impressive historic structures — even more so than the strange generator hut or the nuns’ outhouse — is a huge, sprawling red barn. “We’re not exactly sure the build date on the barn,” Jennelle said. “It’s on a map I have dated 1910, so it’s at least that old, but it’s probably a few decades older than that. It was very smartly built. They have this pulley system so they can lower the hay bales from one floor to the other. They’ve got chute systems for feed and everything.”
However, the barn is uninsurable in its current state due to age and damage. A colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats summer in the lower-level rafters. “I guess they come to the same place every year forever, so they’ve probably been here for decades,” Jenelle said. “They come to have their babies around May. And then they are probably leaving about this time, October. So they help us with our bugs.” A barred owl also lives in the barn.
The barn is looking rough, but it has dignity. Recently it got the distinction of being added to the Washington State Historical Barn Registry. The organization gives grants to deserving old barns, so perhaps Jennelle will be able to restore the barn, or at least preserve it, in the future.
Staying at Gardenview
The B&B rents out three rooms in the main building, and a suite located in a a separate building. We stayed in the suite, the only dog-friendly accommodation. The three rooms in the main building are cozy and well-equipped, but bear the imprint of being redone in the 1980s, so don’t feel as historic as I expected. The suite is huge and has awesome features like a big clawfoot tub and a balcony with chairs and a nice view of trees. I wanted to stay on that balcony for about a week.
Whichever room you choose, Jenelle will deliver a delicious vegan breakfast to you. At 9 a.m., I hear her discreet knock. I open the door to find she’s left a tray set up with beautiful waffles covered in huckleberry compote, accompanied by vegan bacon, butter and syrup. We take breakfast out to the balcony. Maybe I want to stay two weeks, instead.
Photography by Teresa Bergen