CHESTER, Vt. — They could be characters straight out of a Hollywood sitcom.
The funny front man at the door, schmoozing with customers, laughing at their jokes, and remembering the first names of his guests as they slide into home-crafted booths for a home-cooked meal at the cozy country inn.
The woman in the kitchen, juggling orders, the face of serenity as split pea soup is ladled into bowls and veal stew is served atop noodles, tonight’s “hungry man’’ special — a steal at $16.
“Bob Newhart, it’s not,’’ the innkeeper, Sheldon Ghetler told me just before the Saturday night rush begins and he assumed his role as greeter and maître d’.
Francy Anderson, his wife and inn-keeping partner, keeps the trains running on time and the plates full of those down-home meals. Her recipe? Easy on the ego. Hold the chaos.
“What’s there to yell about?’’ she asked as she stood at the stove. “It’s only food.’’
In other words, it’s just another Saturday night at the Stone Hearth Inn & Tavern.
And Ghetler is right. This is not “Newhart,” the 1980s TV comedy about an inn full of oddball characters and quirky guests.
Turns out being an innkeeper is hard work, not comedy. It’s all-consuming. The innkeeper’s bedroom is over the barroom. There’s always a faucet to fix, a wall to patch, a railing to paint.
“If I was really, really rich, it would be fun to do,’’ Ghetler said. “But I’m not really rich. You’ve got to make a go of it. We have to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep it going because we have bills to pay.’’
His wife nodded in agreement. “To take a day off, we have to physically leave and go somewhere,’’ she said. “Otherwise, we’re doing something. We may sit and watch a movie, but we’re still here and always thinking: Should we do this? Should we do that?’’
But judging from the reviews in the dining room, Sheldon and Francy have discovered the secret sauce.
From this 209-year-old, Federal-style building atop six acres of rolling countryside, they have conjured a business whose customers keep coming back as much for the wide-board pine flooring and original fireplaces as for camaraderie and neighborliness that is not on the menu but is, instead, part of the place’s DNA.
“Having the Stone Hearth here is like having a porch on the back of your house or a fire pit in front,’’ said Brian Lenihan, a Hingham attorney who bought a place nearby in 2007, just as the inn was opening under Sheldon’s and Francy’s ownership.
“They’ve created something more than just an inn here,’’ Lenihan’s wife, Bonnie Hertberg said. “It’s just a place to come and see everybody and be part of the community.’’
There is something romantic about ditching everything, changing lifestyles, and opening a country inn and a new life.
It’s the stuff of romantic fiction.
It’s grist for movie-making magic.
Indeed, Sheldon’s and Francy’s path brought them to Chester and an inn with a real stone hearth and well-chronicled tales of ghosts roaming the halls. But while their guests routinely add a dash of color to the place, their innkeeper tales are more straightforward.
Sheldon Ghetler was born in Montreal, the second of four children in a family propelled by hard work. His father manufactured women’s coats and employed 400 people.
He was dyslexic. “I could turn a book upside down and read it better than right-side up,’’ he said. He got as far as ninth grade, then went to work sweeping his father’s factory, cleaning its bathrooms, and learning a skill that led to a nine-year career as a fashion designer.
“I was very good at it,’’ he said. “I had 25 different styles in the Sears catalogue.’’
He married. He traveled to Europe. By the time he met Francy — whose first husband died in 1996 — he was divorced and had moved to France, where he managed a 52-bed guest house in Chamonix, a career change after 33 years in the clothing business.
“I had no idea how to do it,’’ he said. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’’
That included building a life in France, where Francy, by then the mother of two boys, eventually joined him.
“The food was whatever we decided we were eating,’’ he said. “That’s what everybody ate.’’
In 2007, they were in Vermont to visit Francy’s son and daughter-in-law and, while driving by an old, shuttered country inn, they noticed a “For Sale” sign.
“And I said, ‘Maybe that’s what we want to do’ ’’ Ghetler told me. “She said, ‘Well, it wouldn’t hurt to look.’ ’’
The place was huge, 9,000 square feet, and shuttered for two years. They bought it at a bank auction for about $400,000 and then poured another $100,000 into it.
They renovated the bar. They patched. They painted. They turned the derelict building into their vision for a New England country inn. And then, somehow, pulled it off.
“I was in both feet,’’’ Ghetler said. “Both of us were. We were very excited about it.’’
“We were very naïve,’’ his wife told me.
Did they know what they were doing?
“For the inn? Yes. For this?’’ Francy said, referring to her work in the inn’s kitchen. “No. Trial and error. Learn by the seat of your pants. On-the-job training.’’
They installed a new heating system. They built pine benches to sit alongside the tables at the 80-seat restaurant. There are eight guest rooms upstairs. They employ about eight workers, three of them in the kitchen. There’s an exterior paint job in their near future.
As he showed me around the other night, we walked out in back of the inn.
“This is my workshop,’’ he told me as he stepped into an attached shed-like structure.
“What happens here?’’ I asked.
And then, with the timing of a borscht belt comedian, Sheldon replied: “Not much.’’
But he’s kidding.
This country inn business is hard work.
Sheldon and Francy have somehow made it all work. But he is now 67, and she is 70. They’re ready for life outside the inn, ready to relinquish the demands that don’t end at 5 o’clock.
“I’m glad the way it came out,’’ Sheldon said. “But this place would be better off for somebody younger than Francy and I. It’s exhausting. It’s seven days a week. All day. I could be busy all day if I wanted to be.
“You try to serve 100 people in two hours. That’s just Francy. I’m out on the floor. I’m outside spinning plates, making sure everybody’s happy.’’
And, judging by the crowd here the other night, people are happy.
And they know the woman in the kitchen and the guy at the door as more than just the cook and the maître d’.
They know them as neighbors.
Brian Lenihan tells the story of snowmobiling alone nearby one night. There was a lot of snow. He sank down into an embankment.
“I couldn’t get out, I walk down here. I’m like, ‘Sheldon, I got stuck in the snow bank.’ So of course, he’s like, ‘Oh, this lawyer from Boston.’ So he pulls his truck out. And pulls me out of the snow bank.
“And I came back down here and had dinner. He’s saved me a bunch of times like that.’’
All part of doing business, and keeping the plates spinning, at the Stone Hearth Inn & Tavern.Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.