Ten years ago when Austin Isemann was a student at Western Maryland College, he took a job as a gardener at the Quail Ridge Inn in Mount Airy to make some extra money.
What a difference a decade makes.
Now Mr. Isemann is the owner of the Quail Ridge Inn, but he hasn't given up his gardening duties.
"I just did some gardening work the other day," said Mr. Isemann, 30. "You always return from whence you came."
A resident of Mount Airy for the past 10 years, Mr. Isemann worked at the Quail Ridge Inn during most of his college years at Western Maryland.
After college he worked for the Seiler Corp., a food service company that contracts with institutions. There, Mr. Isemann gained experience in the management end of the food service business.
He and his wife, Carol, had eaten at the Quail Ridge Inn many times, and when the opportunity arose to buy the restaurant, they decided to purchase it.
"We said let's go in here and bring the standards back up, bring the people back in, get the serving staff to care and get the dishwashers to care," Mr. Isemann said.
Since buying the restaurant in June 1993, Mr. Isemann has developed a new menu and worked to emphasize customer service.
Over the past five years, Mr. Isemann said, the Quail Ridge Inn had dropped many of the Italian dishes on its menu to concentrate on American food.
Mr. Isemann and his chef, Lance Hannan, have brought back more Italian dishes, featuring fresh veal and seafood. But favorites such as steak and crab cakes are available, too.
The restaurant also offers more homemade items, including soups, salad dressings, sauces and desserts, he said.
Mr. Isemann has done little to change the rustic interior of the Quail Ridge Inn.
One section of the restaurant was originally a one-room schoolhouse built during the Civil War. Legend has it that a schoolteacher who hanged herself on an oak tree behind the school now haunts the inn.
Continuing to put his imprint on the Quail Ridge Inn, Mr. Isemann plans to bring more changes to the restaurant in the next few months.
Beginning Sept. 11, the inn will serve a champagne brunch every Sunday. In the fall the restaurant will hold its first "Murder Dinner," in which diners try to solve a murder mystery staged by actors.
Mr. Isemann characterizes the Quail Ridge Inn as a "destination restaurant." He says most of the restaurant's customers don't stop for dinner on their way to another activity, such as a movie.
"We're the main event," said Mr. Isemann. "People come here for romantic dinners, anniversaries, birthdays. . . . They need to be made to feel special."
Under Mr. Isemann's ownership, the Quail Ridge Inn has become a family business.
His wife, who Mr. Isemann describes as "the grace and beauty of our organization," occasionally serves as hostess. His mother-in-law makes all the pastries and desserts, his mother and father do whatever needs to be done and his 10-year-old stepdaughter helps out occasionally.
"We bought into the American dream," Mr. Isemann said. "We own our own place, have our family there and can see the results."