Growing a True Family Business in Costa Rica
When Willy and Monika Krauskopf visited Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal 20 years ago, it was a life-changing event. The couple spent 10 days driving around the country. But they found themselves especially drawn to Lake Arenal because of the natural beauty and unhurried pace of the area.
Like many others, they had fallen in love with life on the lakeshore. So much so, in fact, that they packed their bags and moved there with their then four-year-old triplet daughters (Alex, Kathryn, and Sabrina, now all 23). The initial plan was to retire…relax. They made all the preparations, shutting up their Bavarian restaurant in Mt. Shasta, California, and moving to their Arenal farmhouse fulltime.
But soon after arriving the couple became restless. First, Willy bought a machine to make sausages and started selling them on the roadside from the back of his truck. It was a small operation but successful. And a lot of fun. Next, Monika suggested they open up a little restaurant—that became The Caballo Negro, which features German favorites (they make their own corned beef and sauerkraut), as well as local dishes.
Then they opened a small art gallery. The B&B was next. It opened up five years ago. “At some point it became kind of a game,” says Alex. “Whenever one parent would leave town, the other would start a renovation or expansion project to surprise the other.” Monika explains that the couple could never agree on what projects to do—so each took matters into their own hands.
You could say that their Lucky Bug Gallery and B&B grew “organically.” The gallery, which today showcases the work of Alex (wildlife paintings and metalwork) and Monika (abstract fiberglass lamps), among other artists, got several additions this way. And the family was the construction crew, from painting to hanging drywall. Kathryn jokes that Alex almost single-handedly built the B&B. And her art fills each of the rooms, themed around frogs, butterflies, and other local creatures.
During the years the girls were growing up in Costa Rica, there were only two U.S. families in the area and not too many full-time expats. “The girls were able to run around the jungle barefoot with local friends, go horseback riding, and swimming in the lake. They would leave home in the morning and not be back until dinner,” says Monika. And Arenal is still that type of place, where parents watch out for each other’s kids. Although the expat community has increased, especially in the last five years or so, it’s still a close-knit, “everybody-knows-everybody” type of place.
On a typical day at the Lucky Bug, resident dogs alternate between napping in the sun and ambling up to new guests for affection. From the back porch of the main building, overlooking a small pond, you can watch brilliantly-hued hummingbirds flit from feeder to feeder. Howler monkeys and toucans can be spotted in the surrounding rainforest.
The Lucky Bug is still a cozy place. And the family wants it to stay that way. They value the close relationships they develop with their guests. They get families, seniors, and everyone in between.
The Internet, word of mouth, bookings from local tour companies, and passers-by in need of lodging keep them busy throughout the year. “We could have a bigger business, bringing in tour buses. But we don’t want that,” says Alex.
Willy passed away two years ago, but his legacy lives on with this family business. Alex and Kathryn still live in Arenal. (The other sister, Sabrina, is in San José, the capital, studying to be a vet.) “It’s good and bad working with family. Sometimes you want to murder each other,” laughs Monika. “And then you love each other the next day.”
“We put our heart into it because it’s family,” says Alex. Everybody pitches in to help with guests. Alex is an excellent chef. And she loves making desserts. Kathryn specializes in ceviche, including a secret ingredient she forbids anyone to reveal. “We’re busy with the B&B but we still have time to indulge our hobbies—a must if you’re going to enjoy your time in sleepy Arenal,” says Alex. For Kathryn it’s going off-roading on her dirt bike and playing guitar. Alex wakeboards (a sport similar to waterskiing) on the nearby lake. She also uses her dessert skills for wedding cakes and even helps plan weddings. And when business is slow, she still has time to make her art, which is both a passion and a great money-maker. (She hesitated to tell me how lucrative it was, but the question did bring a big smile.)
That freedom to be an entrepreneur, helping run her family’s several businesses, is one thing that keeps Alex here. “Here, I can be me,” she says. “I’ve traveled all over, but whenever I leave I can’t wait to get back.”
“I love the people here,” explains Kathryn. “They love kids. They’re so helpful.”
To find out more about the Lucky Bug, and to see some of Alex’s art, take a look at this website.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)