The institution on the corner
The Jarrett House has stood in Dillsboro since 1884. Since before Dillsboro was Dillsboro.
The grand Victorian house has served generations of visitors to the town. It offers them a place to sleep and food to eat. In the finest of style, of course.
And while the historic structure retains the distinction of a bygone era, it has also undergone some significant changes over the course of the past year.
Beginning last fall — with the property under new ownership — the Jarrett House underwent renovations. The inside was ushered into a brighter, more airy existence. The downstairs was remodeled, more light was let in. Wallpaper from the 1970s in the bedrooms was replaced with a fresh coat of paint. There are plans for a lounge area for hosting live music.
People seem to like the changes so far.
“The comment is, ‘it’s brighter, it opens it up, it’s beautiful,’” said Jim Hartbarger, who previously owned and operated the Jarrett with his wife, Jean.
The Hartbargers still own a stake in the Jarrett House. They also still help tend to the operations — something that has helped some longtime customers embrace the changes.
“We have had guests come in, especially early on, and said ‘this is not the same,’” explained Natalie Thomas, manager of the Jarrett. “But then they are pleasantly surprised when Jim and Jean pop out.”
For the past four decades the Hartbargers have greeted visitors to the Jarrett House. Jim can still remember the day he decided to buy the place.
“We sat right out there on the porch,” he pointed outside the front door.
Jim used to be a basketball coach. In the 1970s he coached for Western Carolina University.
“I use to bring my basketball team out to eat every Sunday,” Jim said.
One Sunday when his team was at the Jarrett House, the then-owner approached his table.
“Sitting right over there,” Jim said, pointing to a dining area.
The owner said he was looking to sell, and that he wanted the Hartbargers to run the place. Jim replied that he had no experience in the restaurant or hospitality fields.
“He said that doesn’t make any difference, you and your wife are the right people for this,” Jim recalled.
It was an odd prospect. One that rolled around in Jim’s head for the evening. He awoke early Sunday morning with a feeling.
He went directly to the Jarrett House and encountered the owner on the porch, retrieving the morning’s newspaper.
“We shook hands and I bought it that morning,” Jim said.
After many years, the Hartbargers decided to sell the Jarrett. Again, it was sold on a feeling. Sold to a man the morning after his inquiry.
“The right place at the right time and the right man came in,” Jim said. “Again, it was a matter of a man walking into our lives. He said, ‘I’ll be back in touch with you.’ I didn’t think anything about it. The next morning he called at 10 a.m. and said, ‘let’s talk,’ and we sat right in here.”
The new owner, Constantine Roumel, is from Greece. The entrepreneur, who also owns Nantahala Village in Bryson City, works out of Atlanta.
“One of the reasons he loved this is it reminded him of home,” said Thomas. “He comes from the island of Crete.”
Out on the front porch of the Jarrett House, a trio of men sit and relax in the afternoon sun and enjoy the rhythm of their rocking chairs. They’re also enjoying the renovations.
“I think it’s nice, it opens it up,” said Rodney Bedenbaugh, a visitor from South Carolina.
The Hartbargers like the recent changes as well. They like the concept of “keep the old, add the new.” And they like that the Jarrett House will continue to welcome guests and nurture a reputation for old-world Western North Carolina hospitality.
It’s a reputation that was verified for the Hartbargers as they visited the Grand Canyon.
“I was standing at the rim,” Jim recalled. “This guy walked up. I turned around, did a second-take, he had a Jarrett House hat on. I said, ‘Where’s the Jarrett House?’ He went on the describe it in great detail.”
Upon returning home, the Hartbargers sent the man a Jarrett House shirt to complement his hat.