A Taste of Home
The Ambrosia Inn in Beckley brings people together.
Photographed by Carla Witt Ford
There’s something uniquely appealing about The Ambrosia Inn in the heart of Beckley. When you leave, you find yourself wishing you hadn’t been using words like “delightful” and “charming” and “wonderful” so casually all these years, so they would better serve you now. That might have something to do with the environs—the bed-and-breakfast is distinctly modern and elegant; just being inside it makes you feel that way, too. Or it may have something to do with Ambrosia’s owner and innkeeper, Sawsan Galal. She’s so warm and clever that once you meet her, you immediately want to be her friend. But it’s probably a combination of the two that lends the inn its charm. “The personality of the innkeeper goes into the feel of the inn,” Sawsan says. “I went to one bed-and-breakfast in Virginia, and it had kind of a country look with quilts. Now that’s beautiful, but it’s not my style. But I appreciated it when I was there because the owners were very nice and it was very much like them. It didn’t clash with their personalities.”
Sawsan opened The Ambrosia Inn in 2013. That is to say, last year she began inviting paying guests to stay there—she’s been living in the home for years, ever since she, her husband, and their daughter moved to Beckley from Boston 18 years ago. But her daughter is out of the house now and her husband passed away three years ago, so Sawson decided to shift her attention toward a new project. “You learn to go through stages and not look back,” she says. A little over a year ago, she moved out of the master suite and into the third floor of the house—it was guest quarters before but makes for a perfect little apartment now with two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom—and started preparing the rest of the house for guests.
She didn’t have to do much—she really just had to bring family photos from the lower floors up into her personal space and buy new linens. Sawsan and her husband had already done major remodeling on the early 20th century house when they moved in. It had been sitting vacant for four years. “There was carpet in the bathroom and in here,” Sawsan says, sitting at the kitchen counter, laughing at the memory of it. “I never understood that. And we painted—everything was avocado green like from the ’70s, and there were these panels with huge yellow and green flowers. It was sensory overload. I modernized it.” These days the space is much more pleasant. It’s outfitted with lushly upholstered furniture in a neutral palette. It feels decadent but refined, classic but still modern. And every so often you’ll turn a corner and find something vaguely exotic—the house is filled with souvenirs from Sawsan’s world travels with her husband and from her visits to Egypt, where she was born.
At many bed-and-breakfasts, the proprietors are preoccupied with the sleeping accommodations; meals are an afterthought. Not at The Ambrosia Inn. Sawsan’s background is in food—she’s a trained chef and was giving cooking lessons in the home before it was B&B. She takes pride in serving her guests a lovely breakfast each morning, whatever they like. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a food you don’t like on a plate in front of you,” she says. “If they want eggs every day, and some people do, I’ll make them eggs every day. If not I’ll make something new every day they’re here.” She uses fresh ingredients, locally sourced when possible and sometimes from her own backyard—she even has a grape arbor that makes for fresh grapes all summer and homemade grape preserves all year. “People are always asking me, ‘What are we cooking this week?’” she says. “And I don’t know until I go to the supermarket because I have to see what looks good there.” You can book a cooking class during your stay or, if you live near Beckley, get on the mailing list and come as often as you’d like—some of Sawsan’s cooking students have been visiting for years. “And they’re good cooks. They aren’t people who didn’t know how to cook before,” she says. “But when I teach cooking I don’t teach the recipe; I teach techniques. Because when you teach technique you can take that and translate any recipe.”
Sawsan sees The Ambrosia Inn as a way to fill her life with a cast of new faces—many of whom go on to become friends. She says food brings people together. “You can’t isolate yourself in life. You have to open yourself to people,” she says from Ambrosia’s kitchen, still messy from a beautiful breakfast she prepared that morning. She’s interrupted by a guest in the middle of that thought, coming in for a hug goodbye on her way out the door. When she leaves, Sawsan continues. “Your attitude is so important, your vibe,” she says. “If you open– yourself to the universe, the universe gives back. But if you close yourself off you’re done.”The Ambrosia Inn, 611 North Kanawha Street, Beckley, WV 25801 304.253.0429, theambrosiainn.com