Brandon Branch loves the South and has a special reverence for the small town traditions that bind us all together. He knows that a true Southerner shines brightest when they entertain others, and that love of entertaining led him on a long and winding search for the perfect bed and breakfast inn to call his own. After graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in horticulture, Brandon traveled the world before landing in Aspen, Colorado. This is where he first happened across Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil—the true story of a murder that took place in Savannah, Georgia. He watched the film one night and was so enchanted that he packed his car and drove to Savannah on a whim. Fourteen years later he was still there, holding court at the center of the local scene. He also found himself at the helm of a very successful interior design business and the focal point of a Bravo reality show. When shooting completed, he was ready for a change of scenery. Filming ended on a Sunday and on Monday morning, Brandon and his husband Jim Johnston loaded up and headed to Louisiana to make Brandon’s long-time dream come true. Brandon says, “It took me two years to talk Jim into moving and buying our very own hotel. He had a successful real estate career in Savannah, and it was a big leap of faith for him to say yes to this with me.” They started out with a list of eight properties, and when they turned the corner onto Commerce Street in St. Francisville, Louisiana, they were home. They knew they wanted a place with at least ten guest rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, and although the inn needed work, they were up for the job. “We wanted a challenge and something we could do together,” says Brandon. “This was it.”
They bought the inn in October of 2018 and greeted their first guests in April of 2019. For the first three months they honored the reservations of the previous owners while they bounced around, living room to room and working six days a week during the massive renovation. A few weeks in, they had a party of eight ladies show up—a group who had been planning for a long time to make the trip. At first, they were angry to see all the work and wanted a refund. Then Jim gave them a choice: “I told them I would gladly refund their money, but I asked them to give us twenty four hours before they decided. Three days later, they were still here. And they didn’t want to leave.” That is a testament to the true Southern hospitality that awaits each guest of The St. Francisville Inn. They’ve welcomed guests from New Zealand, France, England, Australia, and have regulars who come to stay four or five times a year—some even visit monthly. Brandon’s horticulture degree becomes evident as you stroll through the beautiful gardens, and soon he will add a greenhouse where he can tend a kitchen garden for Executive Chef Michael Dardenne—a Louisiana native—and his staff, all of whom keep the revolving menu full of surprises that will not let you down.
One of the most impressive parts of the renovation is the owners’ quarters. What was once raw attic space is now a low country pied-à-terre full of tradition and charm, and it is easy to see that the years Brandon spent as an interior designer are not far behind him. Every inch is perfectly appointed, and the personal touches can be seen throughout. “We love it here, and we never miss our old lives. This town needed a boutique hotel, and we are glad to be able to provide it. Plus, it’s like hosting a cocktail party every single night.”