Lakehouse Inn owner Karen Fagnilli: Erie Interviews

Lakehouse Inn & Winery

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The Lakehouse Inn & Winery in Geneva on the lake offers eight rooms and three suites, with a mix of luxury and nostalgia. (Karen Fagnilli)

Meet Karen Fagnilli, owner of the Lakehouse Inn & Winery right on Lake Erie, in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s first summer resort. Fagnilli and her husband, Sam, bought the old summer hotel in 2000, and now the entire family runs the complex, which includes a winery, restaurant, cottages, event space, spa and butcher shop. There’s even a beach bar, where you can sip a glass of peach wine and stick your toes in the water. And small event space.

The couple lives in the back of the inn, with an expansive view of the lake. Their son, Nate, is the chef of the Crosswinds Grille, and their daughter, Andrea, ran the inn for years. Now their grandchildren are starting to help out around the place.

“It’s a great place to raise kids,” Fagnilli said. “Mother nature’s been good to us. The kids love to spend time at the water.”

Here’s what Fagnilli had to say about running the inn, living on the water and Geneva-on-the-Lake.

The Fagnilli family runs the Lakehouse Inn & Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake. (Karen Fagnilli)

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Did you always want to run an inn?

We just morphed into it. It was never our plan. It just happened, and now it’s 17 years later. We’re all still active in the business. Sam and I were looking for a place on the water. We looked at every property possible and couldn’t find anything, so we gave up, said let’s look at something for the kids. Then my daughter Andrea, she toured the Lakehouse, and she said, I can do this.

We closed our auto repair business in 2011. I retired from nursing – I ran outpatient chronic care clinics for the Cleveland Clinic – at the end of 2014. I had to decide, am I going to continue in my day job or give up the Lakehouse. And I couldn’t give up the Lakehouse.

Why was it so important for you to be on the water?

We love the lake. We started sailing when we were newly married. Our kids grew up racing. We had small day sailor, a Thistle.

The lake is ever changing. Every day is different. It’s just so gorgeous. It’s Mother Nature’s best. Living on the lake is just incredible.

We have lots of freighter traffic. You see a lot of stuff: in the summer, we see sailboats, power boats, jet skis, paddleboards, kayaks, there’s so much to do.

How has the inn changed since you bought it?

We weren’t there a year and we put air conditioning in. We made some rooms into suites. We did a lot of stuff the first couple years.

What surprised us is that everything we did ended up being too small. The public supported us. We were only going to make wine for inn guests. Then the public said, you’ve gotta be kidding me. We changed our plan.

We have 1,000 vines now. We also buy from local grape growers. We have a broad base. We do Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, some Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, dry Rose, Moscato

People want sweeter wines. Our Just Peachy is very very popular. We have done Sparkling Apple this year, a strawberry honey wine, a maple that’s almost like a cordial.

We added all the patios for seating for Andrea’s wedding. We opened the restaurant and the spa in 2012.

As we modify things at the inn, people want that nostalgia, but they want those amenities.

What is Geneva-on-the-Lake best known for?

You can go anywhere, and people know Geneva-on-the-Lake. I was a very hot place in the ‘40s and ‘50s. In the early early days the Rockefellers would come out. Because we’re in such close proximity to Youngstown and Pittsburgh, moms and kids would spend whole summer on the lake. It’s always been that family place, where generation after generation after generation would stay at the cottage. It’s very nostalgic.

A lot of people we’ve seen over the years have become good friends of ours. The same families come back year after year and you get to know them. They’re coming home for vacation.

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