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Couple transforms rundown motel into luxury inn and cafe

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BEATTYVILLE (WDKY)-- There's new life in an old motel just outside Beattyville. The former eyesore in now eye-catching. You can get fresh-roasted coffee here, delicious danishes and chocolates made from the bean.

In late 2017, Dustin Cornett opened The Chocolat Inn and Cafe, providing luxury accommodations in an area known for campgrounds and cabins.

"Many of the cabins around here are great, but that's not for everyone," Cornett said. "Sometimes you want to come back to a room with a 65-inch TV, high-speed Internet and a king-sized mattress with plush pillows."

The eight rooms here represent places Cornett has visited, such as Paris, Berlin, and Mumbai.

Cornett was one of those young people who wanted to leave his hometown and never come back. After he graduated from Western Kentucky University with a degree in broadcasting, he went on a six-year adventure to see the world.

"I liked the bright lights and big cities," he said. He met the woman who would become his wife while living in Japan.

He thought she would want to live in a big city with a large Asian population, but she fell in love with eastern Kentucky.

Mai Cornett said, "I love nature and how there's no stress here."

She said the local residents have been kind to her and she feels she could live the rest of her live in Beattyville. That helped her husband begin to appreciate his hometown more and to see business potential there.

Dustin taught himself to roast coffee and make chocolates, using his grandmother's recipes. Mai learned how to fix fancy pastries. But they realized that wasn't enough to make it in a town with fewer than 2,000 residents.

So they turned their attention to an old motel that was for sale.

Dustin knew his first big obstacle would be getting a business loan. He was 31 years old, without a steady income, trying to create something no one was sure would work.

"Everyone says when you're in school and out of school, 'Go out and get an education and then bring your skills here. If you do that, you this area will thrive.,'" Dustin said. But he said no one really seemed willing to take that risk. He was turned down by several banks until he found one willing to take the risk.

The motel was run down and had a bad reputation. It had been turned into apartments and still looked like it was stuck in the 1960s.

"Everybody said 'Dustin, you're crazy,' and I think you have to be a little crazy to do this," he said. He gutted the place, knocked out walls and completely redecorated the rooms, adding tile floors and luxury tubs and showers.

The cafe now has regular customers. Dustin said it helps that the nearest Starbucks in 90 miles away.

"Some of the tourists will drive quite a distance for good coffee," he said.

The inn gets five-star reviews on travel sites and the Cornetts look forward to the upcoming tourist season, when all rooms will be available for rent for the first time. They hope other entrepreneurs will see what they've done and be inspired to invest in the region. The nearby Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge State Park get nearly a half million visitors each year. They believe it should be easy to steer more of that traffic into Beattyville.

"We have one life. If it fails, it fails," he said. "If it's successful, fantastic. But I get one life. I want to try something. I want to do it and that's why I'm here."


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