Starting Fresh in Her 40s
January 2022 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
When Darien innkeeper JoAnn Viera was featured just over nine years ago in the pages of Paisley, she had made the life-changing decision to leave a high-pressure career in New England to renovate and open a bed and breakfast on the Darien riverfront. While she continues to run the Darien Waterfront Inn, three years ago she took another leap of faith when she left the inn’s original location behind and built a new inn six blocks away.
“I was nervous and scared to death about the move, but it has worked out great. Businesses here really help each other and many of my former guests followed me to the new location; they love the new place. The original inn was an old warehouse that I was leasing…,” she said. The new location, which is near Fort King George, goes by the same name and has riverfront and marsh views and coastal-themed rooms as did the original location. “I have five guest rooms and my own quarters. Since it’s a new building, it’s also easier to clean.” She also has a separate two-bedroom cottage available to guests who would like more privacy.
“I was so unhappy where I was, and I hated my job in Massachusetts (at a Verizon call center). I used to ride the train to work and read books that were based on the eastern southern coast. When I came to Darien, everything collided and fell into place. This is where I am meant to be.”
JoAnn had always looked at people who quit long-time jobs to pursue their passion with wonder and admiration. “I never thought I would be a person that made that leap. I dreamed about it, but never thought it would be me, but now it is! I’ve never been happier.”
While she was born and raised in New England, JoAnn always had a natural connection to the Peach State through her mother, who is from the north Georgia town of Royston. Her sister, Janice Chamberlin, also had moved to Georgia right after graduating high school. She and her husband, Bob, moved to Darien 10 years ago ahead of JoAnn and began operating the Blue Heron Inn (now a VRBO property), and Janice was the one who talked JoAnn into checking out what was then a “fish camp-type” property that would eventually become the inn.
After repeated visits to Darien and the surrounding region and her sister’s insistence that she should also move to the area, JoAnn said she fell in love with Darien and the former warehouse she transformed into her inn.
“Although I was able to support my family with my job, I really hated it. Leaving my job and making the move was scary, but it was worth taking the chance. I was 43 when I made the move, and I gave myself five years to make it work—or not. I knew the worst thing that could happen is that it wouldn’t work out, and I could find another job. I also had somewhat of a backup with my sister living here.”
She was also lucky that Verizon was offering package deals for employees wanting to leave, and JoAnn took them up on the offer.
“I felt like I left my life and went on vacation,” she said, laughing. “People in Darien are so warm and welcoming, and I love sharing Darien and its history with guests. Darien is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. New England was just too cold and too hectic for me. Now, I did have to learn how to slow down after moving here,” she added, laughing again. “But this is a really easy place to be. I love the beach and marshes, and I love sharing it with guests from all over the country and the world.”
Being an innkeeper has brought many rich experiences to JoAnn. She has had guest from as far away as Sweden and Newfoundland. “Now I want to travel there!” JoAnn said.
In addition, a few celebrities check into the inn from time to time, including a member of the Marshall Tucker Band, a former NFL player and the inventor of the turkey fryer.
Although her children and grandchildren still live in Massachusetts, they are among her most favorite frequent guests. “I get up to Massachusetts some, but they come down a lot. This is their vacation spot! It’s just so darn cold in Massachusetts, and they have a free place to stay when they visit.”
If someone is thinking about making such a life-changing transition, JoAnn advises doing research and coming up with a plan. “Find what speaks to you. It’s scary, but so worth it. I am so lucky to have found my purpose. I tell people that being an innkeeper really doesn’t feel like a job to me. I went from working with very unhappy people every day to hosting people who are on vacation and happy. And, you can’t beat the commute!”
“Proud Mom and Grandmother: Son John runs a drilling company. Daughter Erin recently graduated from nursing school and has begun work as a registered nurse. Grandson Landon recently turned 10.
Education: Liberal arts degree from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Other Pastimes: “My passions are golf and going to the beach. We recently had a warm day. After I served the guests breakfast and cleaned up, I didn’t have anyone checking out, so I drove over to Jekyll and walked on the beach and had lunch. It was perfect!”
Life On the Water: “I love to be either on or near the water.” That includes kayaking.
Future: “I see myself doing this for another 10 years, but I don’t know what retirement looks like for me. Possibly, I can just slow down and not rent out all the rooms. I don’t want to go anywhere.”