BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
Crown Point, Indiana, native Elizabeth Dimos was pursuing a career in front-of-the-house hospitality management. Andrew Whittaker, who hailed from a small town outside Canterbury, England, was passionate about the culinary arts.
When they met in 1999 during a graduate accounting class at Purdue University, the two discovered that while their career aspirations varied, they shared a common interest in serving others. Twenty years later, they opened the Whittaker Inn in West Lafayette.
Tucked away on a wooded drive near State Road 43, the 25-acre property is equal parts boutique hotel and bed and breakfast, a suburban retreat just slightly down a road less traveled. As Andrew noted during the inn’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2019, “What’s not to love about this site? The Whittaker is just so secluded from everything, yet so close to Purdue University and downtown Lafayette.”
Seven years in the planning, the Whittaker Inn is now thriving as what the couple calls a “Midwestern oasis” and what reviewers have described on Facebook as “spacious, romantic and comfortable;” “top-notch” and “outstanding.”
The root of their careers and relationship
After Elizabeth completed her bachelor’s degree and Andrew completed his master’s, both from Purdue’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, they each found jobs on the East Coast. Andrew worked in food and beverage finance in New York city properties, beginning with The Waldorf Astoria. Elizabeth started in front office management, then transitioned into revenue management for several different hotels and chains, including five years in Times Square properties.
While they both enjoyed successful careers, by 2012, they were ready for a change. The couple had a long talk about their future while staying at a B&B in Connecticut and decided they had strayed too far from the service side of the hospitality industry.
When they dreamed up the idea of an inn, it was only natural that they return to the root of both their careers and their relationship: Greater Lafayette.
After nearly a year of searching, the Whittakers discovered the wooded site where deer grazed and blue herons bred. Located near both I-65 and Purdue, it was an ideal location for football weekends, corporate retreats and romantic getaways. In 2018, they broke ground, and in May 2019, the red-roofed, yellow farmhouse-style inn opened for business.
A family affair
Just as a travel-loving family furnishes its home with objects from around the world, the Whittakers have outfitted their establishment with 15 themed rooms and suites, each representing a city, region or country. Every continent except Antarctica is represented.
“Andrew and I have always had a great passion for travel and learning about different cultures and the perspective you gain while traveling,” Elizabeth says. “We chose the destinations for each of the rooms based on places we have been to, places we have family ties to, and places we would like to go to someday.”
Instead of room numbers outside each door, small placards depict the flag of the room’s representative country. Inside, the theme carries through in furnishings and decor. In the Tuscany Room, named after the region of Italy known for its terra cotta villas and sunflower fields, the contemporary bed is adorned with a quilted sunflower-themed scarf made by Elizabeth’s mother. The flowers also sprout from wall art and from the crocheted blanket draped over a chair in the sitting room. The coffee table holds books about Vatican City and Tuscany, and a guest book invites visitors who have been to Italy to leave recommendations for future travelers. Above each nightstand is a pendant light made from Murano glass – the famed glassware that has been manufactured on a Venetian island for 1,500 years.
Similarly, the England Room features Andrew’s homeland, with a framed photo of Canterbury Cathedral and a red phone booth-styled floor statue, given to the couple by Andrew’s mom. Down the hall, looming over the Indiana-themed board room is a 500-plus pound table carved from Douglas fir into the state’s characteristic shape. Shadow boxes on the wall contain memorabilia from Elizabeth’s grandfather, P.L. Owens, the room’s namesake, who was a civil engineer, a Sagamore of the Wabash recipient and the first family member to graduate from Purdue University.
The entire creation of the inn was a family affair. Along with many quilted pieces, Elizabeth’s mom crafted handmade soaps and crocheted washcloths for the bathrooms. She also bakes the cookies that overnight guests receive upon arrival. Elizabeth’s dad donated his pool table. Many of the Whittakers’ friends supplied original artwork.
Despite these B&B touches, the inn looks like an upscale hotel, with a two-story gathering room and spa-like amenities such as plush bathrobes and rainfall showerheads. Elizabeth says that she and Andrew planned this juxtaposition of the comfortable and the chic from the beginning, borrowing the best elements from the various places they’ve stayed. Even the check-in is designed to evoke a feeling of comfort; instead of standing behind a desk, Elizabeth registers her guests with an electronic tablet.
Globally inspired cuisine
Elizabeth’s dad came from Greece, and his ancestry is reflected not only in the Greece Room with its characteristic blue-and-white decor, but also in many of the recipes that chef Andrew cooks up in their kitchen. Among them: a mouth-watering white rice cooked in butter and chicken broth; a roasted fingerling potato salad lightly tossed with olive oil; and the rustic Greek Village Salad, a lettuce-free concoction of tomatoes, peppers, olives and feta.
Other globally inspired dishes include beer-battered fish and chips, served with both tartar sauce and malt vinegar; and Mojito chicken, marinated in mint, rum, lime and sugar. Andrew incorporates locally sourced ingredients into dishes whenever possible.
The house specialty is Andrew’s crab cakes. “He has spent several years perfecting the recipe, and it has become a fan favorite,” Elizabeth says.
The Whittaker Kitchen is open for breakfast only to overnight guests, but to everyone for dinner on select evenings. The 690-square-foot dining room seats up to 50, with additional seating on the patio.
Adapting to changing market factors
Equipped with flat screen TVs and conference call capabilities, the inn can be rented out for corporate retreats, business gatherings and family reunions. The dining room itself can also be used for everything from 50th anniversary celebrations to a private English afternoon tea for 7-24 of your closest friends. Event space has been more limited, of course, during the pandemic.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Elizabeth says she and Andrew were fortunate that their inn opened nine months before the pandemic hit. In recent months, they have adapted their approach in response to changing market factors.
When restaurants were closed by Indiana executive order, the couple put together a to-go menu. Pickups were still available in early September, even though the patio and dining room had both reopened.
“Carryout literally and figuratively carried us through the pandemic shutdown. It has been very well received by the community, as they wanted a way to continue to support us and the Whittaker while travel was all but shut down except for essential travel,” Elizabeth says. “Andrew’s culinary offerings have always been a big draw to the inn.”