Meet Carissa Zanella – Owner of Hillbrook Inn

Chef Steve Ferrell and Carissa Zanella

Carissa and Chris, owners of Hillbrook Inn were born in Pittsburgh, PA. Carissa spent 8 years of her childhood in Newburyport, Maine, before moving back to Pittsburgh and meeting Chris.

What led you to becoming an innkeeper?

Chris and I worked in a banquet facility through college. Upon graduating and getting married, we both took positions with a home builder in Hagerstown, MD, and eventually I left the company to start a quilting business out of our home. In an effort to combine my two passions, I started looking for a inn to house special events and quilting trainings. When we started searching for a inn, we found Hillbrook Inn and Spa and fell in love immediately.

Why did you choose the Hillbrook property?
As soon as you drive down the driveway of Hillbrook Inn, you find a storybook setting. The old English Tudor captivates you as it cascades down the hillside.  I knew it was the perfect home for our creative minds.  My husband maintains the building, oversees the maintenance and grounds, and works behind the scenes in the business. I personally handle more of the front of the house — working directly with staff, visiting with guests, and helping my team with events and every day operations.

Philosophy behind the success of Hillbrook Inn and The Redbook Restaurant…

What makes Hillbrook Inn successful?
Our staff is the key ingredient to Hillbrook’s success! We are blessed to work beside some of the most wonderful people on a daily basis.  They are truly amazing with the guests and carry a passion and love for the Inn, which we appreciate deeply. Often I am asked if the property is “staff owned,” which says a lot about how much they care for not only the business but also each other.

Where did the Redbook Restaurant name come from?
There has been a restaurant located on the Hillbrook Inn property since 1985. Three years ago, we named it the “Redbook Restaurant” because we record our daily menus in a little red book in the kitchen, allowing us to look up the menus of our repeat guests. Often times. you will see guests reading from the display of old red books in our main dining room.

What is the philosophy of The Redbook and culinary team, and why is it important?
We use the most fresh, nutritious, high-quality, and locally sourced ingredients we can find. Knowing the source of the foods we prepare is extremely important to our culinary team. As well as providing guests with a well-rounded culinary experience. We want to urge our guests to feel connected to the food and dining experience on an emotional level, giving them an appreciation for the ingredients and telling a story with the meal.

The pluses of being a Business Owner

What is your favorite thing about owning a restaurant?
My favorite thing is being able to create special experiences by delivering amazing meals in an unforgettable historical setting. I also enjoy learning firsthand how our farmers and artisanal food purveyors work as a community to be successful.

What is your favorite thing about owning an inn?
Meeting the people that come through the doors is my favorite thing. Building relationships is a gift in life, and finding the positive in the world comes from knowing people. Through the inn and restaurant, we have managed to build some of the most wonderful relationships that will last a lifetime. We want the best for others, whether it is an employee or a guest, and the inn helps to fulfill that for us.

Where does your passion for food come from…

Was there a lot of cooking in your household when you were young?
Yes, both of sides of our families cooked.  My mother grew up with 13 children in her family.

What is your passion for food and comfort?
We love food, and it is a part of everything we do, whether we are at work with guests or opening our home to friends and family. Sharing fantastic flavor profiles and quality food is important to both of us.  There is something comforting about food that is authentic and nutritious.

What has been your greatest professional success?
Our greatest success was the purchase of the Hillbrook Inn at the age of 27, with a one-year-old child. We always said we wanted to own our own business and work together as a team. It is hard to believe we were that young, had a family, and were able to accomplish what we did at that time in our life.

Meet the chef and Carissa’s commitment to locally sourced products…

How do you promote your business – do you have seasonal specials?
Most of our business is promoted online and through a social media marketing campaign. Yes, we offer seasonal specials and discounts throughout the year.

Tell me a little bit about your chef.
Chef Jan Van Haute leads our team with confidence and kindness.

Being a farm to table restaurant for so long, is that hard to maintain?
Providing products from local growers has always been important to me. The only thing that can present challenges is growing seasons in our local area and finding farmers that fit your specific needs.

How do you set yourself apart for any other Inn and restaurant?
Our facility is set apart because of the architecture and history of the property. Hillbrook is situated on the first piece of property George Washington ever purchased.   

What is your favorite food personally?
Chris’ favorite food is Italian, which he gets from his family history. Carissa enjoys food in general that is prepared with heart and soul.

What was your favorite food from your childhood memory?
Chris enjoyed things such as homemade gnocchi from his great grandmother’s recipe card, which I have come to love as well.

Weddings at Hillbrook… a fairytale experience

Tell us something about weddings…
Weddings at Hillbrook are a fairytale experience. We want each couple to feel special, so all of our events are customized and unique. We work with couples every step of the way to plan their dream wedding. This includes many convenient services to make the process is as stress-free as possible. Our culinary team plays a role in making the wedding meal a reflection of the couple as well. This is accomplished by honing their tastes into a presentation that wows their guests and pays homage to the memories they’ve created as a couple. Hillbrook Inn specializes in intimate events for up to 80 guests, with our most popular packages serving approx. 10-20 guests.

Learn more about Chef Jan Van Haute and his love of everything culinary >>

Experience all the scenic beauty of Hillbrook Inn >>