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Daily Inspiration: Meet Donna Wecker

Today we’d like to introduce you to Donna Wecker. Them and their team share their story with us below:

Daniel Wecker, a longtime Howard County resident, was trained in all the disciplines of classical and provincial French cuisine under Chef Michel Beaupin from Grenoble, France through apprenticeship in the late 1970’s. After his marriage to Donna, Dan and his new bride began a successful catering company in 1981 and then found his biggest challenge 1988 when they started the restoration of the historic Elkridge Furnace Inn circa 1744. Their extensive organic gardens and business continue to grow. The newest circa 1830 Garden House for more intimate private celebrations opened just this year. In addition to Chef Wecker’s exemplary cooking skills, he has been a ‘Howard Hero’ as designated by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce for his work in the community. He donates regularly his time, talent, funds, and food to the Elkridge Food Pantry, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Days of Taste with the HCPSS, HC Public Library Reading Program and AFS Foreign Exchange Student program, to name just a few. He was inducted into the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious French Cooking Guild last year.

Donna performed different tasks behind the scenes over the many years but was mostly a support until five years ago when she gave up teaching to put her personal touch on the business. She has inspired rebranding and redecorating to include an emphasis on the on-site farm, local sourcing and highlighting the historic and natural beauty of the property. She and her husband act as curators of the historic complex owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. They act as host to countless life events in the day to day celebration of food and story.

Behind the scenes with all this, Dan and Donna lost their son, Philip who was born just after moving onto the complex. He had a complicated auto-immune disease spending three of his almost four years as a patient at Johns Hopkins. Their son, Cameron, also inherited this disease but had a bone marrow transplant in 2000. Standing up under the pressures of loss and illness why running a growing restaurant/catering business has been more than challenging. Dan and Donna thrive on giving back and fostering an attitude of gratitude. The Inn, its scope and vision continue to expand along with involvement in the community.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Working in a family business structure is humbling and sometimes impossible. We had started with our sister and brother in law, but the vision and work styles of the brothers led to a parting. It took years to mend. Of course employee turnover, ethics and the brunt one takes at times being in the public eye are tough. Our daughter as pastry chef and sons have not always dealt well with the stress and, honestly, this industry is not family-friendly with all the hours needed to survive and thrive. Finding a management team with both skill and vision when you are busy just getting by is a strange catch 22. The economic meltdown of 2007-8 had my husband sweating bullets. And the recent pandemic pushed us to rethink and remodel our business in many ways. As in all these challenges, creating memories and a culinary experience for our guests continue to drive us to new heights. Connecting to our gardens also keeps us both inspired and grounded.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Chef Dan is an artist in the true sense of the word, not only with food on a plate, marrying wine to food, but creating floral centerpieces and the entire backdrop. Donna has hand-stenciled and painted inspiring spaces that are relevant and unique in this historic setting. Donna has also created an art gallery including her photography on the walls of the Inn. We highlight the arts at many of our in-house events. Donna writes scrips and creates themes for readers theater for teas and other events.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
Tenacity, genuinely caring for people and each other, going with intuition and passion and, of course, dedicated hard work over the long haul.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Photos by Donna Wecker

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