Young Serbian Entrepreneurs Find Success

By Milos Rastovic

My wife Vanessa and I decided to spend our summer vacation in Maine, not only because we have never been there, but also to visit two young Serbian entrepreneurs who are the new owners of the Harborage Inn Hotel. It’s located in the downtown area of Boothbay Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean.

We had never had the opportunity to travel to Maine, but, read about its natural beauty with pine tree forests and lakes, friendly people, delicious seafood such as lobsters and the pleasant climate in Maine. Finally, we booked our vacation for August over the phone in a conversation with the owners, Aleksandar and Marija Nikolic. In the early morning, we packed our luggage and drove from Pittsburgh to Boothbay Harbor in about 12 hours. We enjoyed driving through the amazing forests of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, to reach our destination in Maine.

Streetview of the Harborage Inn

When we arrived, our hosts Aleksandar and Marija, both 29, were waiting for us. After we settled in at the hotel, we had a chance to visit with them on the terrace where we enjoyed an outstanding meal they provided after our long trip. I presented them with the American Srbobran and the DVD Movie “Tesla Nation” by Zeljko Mirkovic.

Aleksandar and Marija met in their hometown of Uzice in the south of Serbia during their high school days. Together they studied economics and graduated from the University of Belgrade. During their studies, they had the opportunity to enroll in a U.S. student program “Work and Travel in the United States.” They came to the United States in 2014 and worked in Maine, a state they had never heard of before.

The Agency found a job for them in the Lighthouse Inn & Carriage House Hotel in York Beach. Their goals was to get some practical work experience to help them in their future careers. Aleksandar and Marija worked as housekeepers at the hotel. The owner had purchased the hotel the same year they began to work there, and Aleksandar and Marija were her first employees. After working there for three months, they left and set out to see as many towns as possible. They visited Boston, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, Miami, and New York. Marija said, “We traveled all around the United States because we thought that we would not be able to come back (to America).”

Two hours before their deadline to return to Serbia, they applied to the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery Program, and won. “We got a chance to come to this country with the Green Card Lottery, which we could not imagine before. We were 23 years old and very young. We still had not finished school. We went for an adventure, and, said to ourselves, ‘If we do not like it, we will return to Serbia.’”  

 When the owner of the Lighthouse Inn & Carriage House Hotel in York Beach heard that they won a Green Card, she hired them to be managers. They managed the 30-room hotel for five years while saving money for the future. In 2019, when the owner sold the hotel, they went to Florida to do some seasonal work.

One of their goals had been to apply their knowledge of economics University of Belgrade to a business career. When the Harborage Inn Hotel in Maine appeared on the market, they liked it so much that they decided to buy it.

Aleksandar made an excellent business plan. A broker for business plans for innkeepers was so amazed by Aleksandar’s business plan that she said she would use it for her courses.

Timing was not in their favor. After securing a loan to buy Harborage Inn Hotel, the COVID-19 pandemic invaded our lives in March 2020. Their business, like many others, stopped for a while. By summer, however, all the rooms were booked.

Aleksandar and Marija see themselves as family business owners. They plan to do the best for their future children, friends, and families from Serbia when they visit.

The rooms are luxurious with great style. The terraces are a perfect place to rest and enjoy local food including organic breakfasts of sumptuous artisan bread, eggs, bacon, sausages, salads, blueberry pancakes, and of course, the European Nescafe frappe. After breakfast, I would relax by reading a book, enjoying the ocean from the hot tub, or watching the pedestrians on Townsend Street.

Bedroom at the Harborage Inn

Boothbay Harbor is located in the central Mid-Coast of Maine. It has a long fishing village tradition, especially for lobster, and offers historical boat trips to neighboring islands such as Monhegan Island, where artists come to paint, hike, and fish. You can see fall foliage with brilliant leaf colors certain times of year, or visit Garden Aglow at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to enjoy gorgeous plants. You can take a lobster boat tour, enjoy whales and puffins in the Atlantic Ocean, rent a kayak and relax with seals, and explore the wildlife or visit Marshall Point Lighthouse.

We enjoyed hiking on Indian and Appalachian trails in the pine tree forest surrounding the beautiful lake filled with water lilies. The Opera House is just across from the hotel. On a pleasant walk from the hotel, you can also find many quaint shops with souvenirs, museums, art galleries, and restaurants.

Aleksandar and Marija treated us with a local blueberry ice cream from the famous Downeast Ice Cream Factory. One evening, we went to a restaurant with a scenic view of docked boats and yachts, and enjoyed the unique experience of struggling with big lobsters.

The charm of this hotel has attracted guests for 95 years. Built-in 1925, the Harborage Inn is the longest-running hotel in Maine. Aleksandar and Marija bought it from a Greek family who owned it for 45 years. Marija pointed out that “The hotel remains in European hands after all.”

We recommend a visit to the Harborage Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, which offers the added bonus of enjoying the company of these successful, young Serbian entrepreneurs. You can find more information at https://www.harborageinn.com/.

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