We had the good fortune of connecting with Chi Eastin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chi, what do you attribute your success to?
Passion. When you love what you do, it shows to the people around you. I love my Inn, my town and my region. I want guests to feel like I’m welcoming them into my home. I will let them know where the best dining options are for their tastes that will be a truly distinctive meal. Or direct them to the best views of the sunset over the Mississippi River. I want to give them a unique experience that they will remember long after they check out.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I graduated from the Travel and Hospitality Operations program in 1995 and have been in the field ever since! My goal was to be a travel agent or my bigger plan was to work on a cruise ship. Life had other plans for me and I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter a month after graduating college and so I reprioritized my life. Marriage and another child followed by my true love was still hospitality. It’s very hard to have a travel degree in the rural Midwest and find a career to utilize it. I found work as an associate for a tour operator selling spring break packages, an agent at a AAA office, front desk associate at a few hotels and then an office manager for the Keokuk Chamber, Main Street and Tourism office. I learned so much from these positions! I believe that you need to work in many aspects of your field to truly understand what it takes to make an impact. I must have an impression because I was asked to send a resume to a new hotel owner that was looking for someone with my background to manage it. As I was a single mother to 3 kids, this was a huge blessing.
I have always appreciated the beauty of the Kingsley Inn, but life had me pulled in so many directions that I really only knew about the property from my one stay here for my 21st birthday. I was overwhelmed when the owner gave me a tour of the property in October of 2018, then handed me the keys and asked me when I could move in and start. This was my chance to make an impact on a beautiful, but worn down 30 year old Inn located in a building built in 1860. I threw myself into bringing the 19 rooms back to life with my 3 children. We worked for 5 months on the interior of the building before welcoming our first guests. We spent many days moving furniture, getting rid of pieces that didn’t fit to brand that I wanted to promote, all while experiencing something that not many families would get to do. It will be one of my fondest memories.
My proudest moment from this hard work has been receiving numerous awards for the Inn. We won the Fort Madison Chamber Small Business of the Year in 2021, I won the Distinguished Woman Award form Mississippi Valley Printing 2021, Favorite Local Lodging 2021, Loved By Guests Winner from Hotel.com 2021, 2021 Traveler’s Choice from Trip Advisor, and 3 awards last month from Travel Iowa. We won for Outstanding Lodging, Outstanding Collaboration and Outstanding Community. It’s been a great couple of years!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is a question I work with all of the time! We are in a rural setting but we do have some businesses with a metropolitan feel!
First of all, we get you checked in to the Kingsley Inn. I would have them stay in the Kingsley Guest House. It’s a 1,700 square foot suite with a king sized master bedroom, full sized kitchen, hardwood floor, fireplace, crystal chandeliers, massive columns to the dining room and seven 8′ tall windows overlooking the Mississippi Riverfront and Old Fort Madison! We would then grab our complimentary drink at the hotel’s bar, River Rocks. If it was summer time, we could enjoy those drinks outside in the Courtyard where it has a New Orleans feel, and in the shade from the afternoon sun. We could then order some of River Rocks’ Pork & Green Chile Empanadas with one of our 18 craft beers on tap!
Good morning! We will have breakfast at Jake & Walt’s Fort Diner. This is a classic American Diner with charm, nostalgic feel and great food. It’s home of the Wallyburger and the best biscuits and gravy around. A seat at the counter gives you great views of the Old Fort and the Mississippi River across the street.
We will start our morning off with a tour of the Old Fort. This is a replica of our original fort built in 1808 placed perfectly along the riverfront. Fort Madison was a government trading post that carried on a very lucrative trade with the Sac, Fox, Ioway and Des Moines River Dakota until the War of 1812. Your visit will include daily life at the fort, musket and blacksmithing demonstrations. After the tour we will walk over to the reflecting pond on our way to the Fort Madison Pier. The pier welcomes visiting riverboats and has a great view of the river and our beautiful city! Next up is walking over our skywalk to the Santa Fe Depot Complex. The sky walk goes over 2 sets of train tracks and has another wonderful view of the city and river. Best time for this is at sunset. You can take beautiful pictures on the depot platform. The Santa Fe Depot was built in 1910 and is now a stop for Amtrak on the famed Southwest Chief. The Chief has a daily run from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA. We will also stop at the North Lee County Historic Society Museum and the Transportation Museum that is located in the CB&Q Depot. Fort Madison is blessed to be a train community and welcomes 60-80 trains daily and many railfans that watch them pass by. We are becoming even more popular due to the Virtual Rail Cam that is attached to the outside of the Kingsley Inn. Railfans all over the world watch our trains on YouTube and we are now Virtual Railfans top camera in the country and have received over 25 million views! Time for more food and drinks! Dinner will be at the Lost Duck. Its a microbrewery with pub style food overlooking the same riverfront we explored today. This building was constructed in the 1860s and sports a beautiful wooden bar, stained glass window trim and the brewery is upstairs! I enjoy their Ringneck Red beer and Fish & Chips or the Nutty Duck Salad.
Good morning! Lets start our day at our neighborhood coffee house. Swed & Co. is a roastery with a modern look and great coffee and pastries! It’s a place where locals and visitors mingle and chat with eclectic music and plants surround you. Fridays are called “Frank Fridays” and the staff wears black and listens to Sinatra on the record player! Time to shop. Avenue G acts as our Main Street and is our Downtown Historic District. 35 quaint shops welcome you to find some unique finds. Pool 19 is our local record and plant store that allows you to grab a record off of the shelf and play it while shopping, Harvestville Mercantile is a destination for beautiful farmhouse style decor, unique gifts, dishware, linens, jewelry, soaps, lotions, fresh farm in-season produce, local honey, maple syrups, jams/jellies, salsas, pickles and relishes and baked goods. Other gift shops include Under The Sun for coffee/tea/wine and souvenirs, Odd Marvel has fun, odd gifts and Shugg’s Tiny Toy is our local toys store and ice cream parlor. Grab a panini and Italian cream soda while you’re there. Other interesting stops would be Faeth’s Cigar Store that is a 98 year old watering hole where you can buy ammunition, bait, cigars and a drink all at the bar that was brought to Fort Madison by train from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair! Or if you want to sit and relax, you can take in a movie at the Fox Theater. This 103 year old theater has 2 screens and greets each showing before the previews and hands out mints on a silver tray after the movie is over. Small town living has it’s perks!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a few people that have helped shaped my passion for hospitality and tourism but the first was Elsa Maxwell. This sensational woman was a professional hostess and known as the “hostess with the mostest.”
I learned about her while working as the office manager at the Keokuk Area Convention & Tourism Bureau. An author phoned the office looking for information regarding Elsa and I didn’t know anything about her. Once the gentleman told me some stories about her, I researched her myself and was in awe of her life. She boasted that she was born in 1883, at a theater in Keokuk, Iowa, during a performance of the opera Mignon. She had a flair the the dramatic! Elsa was a radio personality, author, screenwriter and the social icon of the time. She entertained political leaders of the day, foreign dignitaries and entertainment celebrities. Everything that Elsa did was flamboyant and ahead of her time. She invented the scavenger hunt, created themed parties for Europe’s royals and wealthiest socialites and was even hired by the principality of Monaco to put it on the map as a tourist destination due to her following!
“Serve the dinner backward, do anything – but for goodness sake, do something weird.”
“Giving parties is a trivial avocation, but it pays the dues for my union card in humanity.”
In her own words, she was “. . . a short, fat homely piano player from Keokuk, Iowa, with no money or background, who decided to become a legend and did just that.”
Elsa Maxwell created very unique experiences and exuded hospitality. That is my goal!