Much of Blackberry Farm's success (a 2004 Zagat Survey rated it the best small hotel in America) goes to founder Kreis Beall, a 53-year-old photographer, grandmother, cook, decorator, visionary, and, when needed, food shopper and grass mower.
When Kreis was just 23 years old and recently married, she learned she was pregnant. To fill time, she took a cooking class and loved it immediately. For the rest of her pregnancy, she read cookbooks voraciously and tried out beef Wellington, Pont Neuf potatoes and Baked Alaska on friends. "It was 1976, after all," Kreis says of the flamboyant meals that took hours to prepare. Her entrepreneurial husband, Sandy, who started the Maryville, Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain while still in college, saw how much pleasure his wife took in entertaining. He suggested she open an inn. Kreis agreed. "The beauty of youth," she says, "is that you'll say yes to anything."