Profile: When passion meets profession
By Jules Torti
Stefan Shuster has been in practice since November 1988. Quick math? That’s 26 years of massaging. He is a fan favourite at the Langdon Hall Country Hotel and Spa in Blair, Ont., where his Santa-like laugh shakes up the traditional hush and whispers of the spa setting. His hands are probably known second to his mustache which has seen more styles and wax than most of us have had with our hair. Gregarious and approachable with a full arsenal of one-liners, it’s easy to see how Stefan slides from his role as a massage therapist at a five-diamond hotel to his own Uptown Waterloo business – he operates the idyllic Hillcrest B&B with his wife Wendy.
By Jules Torti
It doesn’t stop there. In between Thai stem and hot stone massages,
Stef’s running grocery lists in his head. He’s a part time chef and
spouts off appetizer ideas like oysters with vodka and Sriracha like
poetry. Anyone within ear shot is quickly sucked into his pancetta bacon
love affair and fondness for craft beers like Creemore Springs.
Stef can prep dinners for up to 10 people. Depending on the menu,
$30.00 can buy you three hours of comedy, kitchen interaction and
serious noshing with “The Fat Guy.” If you are intrigued by the fantasy
of owning your own pastoral bed and breakfast, Stef and Wendy also run a
B&B Boot Camp. The one and a half day course is offered through
Conestoga College but held at their Hillcrest headquarters.
comes as no surprise that the genesis of Hillcrest was inspired by a
first year anniversary getaway to the Apple Crest House in Brighton,
Ontario. In 1994, the (then) 128-year-old Victorian was undiluted
tranquility. Situated on 75 acres of mature apple orchard, overlooking
the town of Brighton, church spires, the placid lake and Presqu’ile
Provincial Park in the distance, Stef and Wendy fell under the spell.
Apple Crest was run by an older woman named Eela and her dog, Hopie.
Neighbourhood kids made quick cash cleaning rooms and making beds for
her. In Stef’s email to me, I could see the warm glazed glow on his face
as he described Eela’s breakfast. “Every breakfast was made with some
kind of apple. She made sugared poached apples to look like eggs
Benedict. Really thick bacon. My mouth still waters thinking about it.”
Stef first met Wendy, she had a bake shop and full service catering
business (which segued into Stefan’s sideline work as a part time chef).
Stef’s massage practice was in the same building as Wendy’s which
surreptitiously increased her cookie sales. Doesn’t everyone need a
cookie after receiving a massage? Stef would be just the person to
convince you of that. After staying at the Apple Crest, they mused about
opening a B&B in their ‘retirement’ with Stef continuing to massage
to round out the amenities package.
For eight years Stef was
clocking in solid 17 hour days, 6 days a week. Baking started at 2am
followed by a heavy massage schedule from 9-7pm. Realizing that their
work/life balance was out of whack, the couple decided to close the bake
shop and Stef’s private practice. He took a position at Langdon Hall
and they soon found the perfect house to run a B&B. The 1882
two-storey brick home is close to galleries, cafes and shops that feed
all the needs of their guests. The three suites offer a discerning
marriage of old and new—antique wardrobes, electric fireplaces and en
suite bath. There are perennial gardens to poke about, an outdoor hot
tub and pool table. Breakfast begins with a fruit parfait of yogurt and
homemade granola and a choice of eggs Benny, golden waffles, frittata
or—wait for it: French toasted croissants with caramelized fruit.
became a natural extension of owning a B&B, “life was just going
by,” Stef reflected. The social aspect of owning the Hillcrest and
donning kitchen whites satisfies him in a way that differs from massage
therapy. “I guess I’m trying to share the experience of attentive
accommodation in my home, or cooking satiating food for you, instead of
trying to make you feel better. It’s less complicated. Our goal is to
make our guests comfortable and feel the same ease of being in the home
of a doting relative.” Their stay at the Apple Crest is testament to how
a weekend away can nourish, inspire and kick start a niggling idea into
After 26 years, Stef naturally wonders what the end
game will be. Perhaps he will retire from both careers having put great
energies into both facets. “I don’t think we’re done quite yet, though.
Both professions are linked in my head and are positive for my mental
being.” Langdon and the Hillcrest work well for his lifestyle.
advises that if a MT is looking to become a two-timer that it’s not and
shouldn’t be for monetary gain. “Keeping your mind fresh and learning
something new—even pursuing an odd hobby will only make you smile while
busy massaging. The energy and passion you convey will be passed on to
As he emailed me just hours away from his
departure for a week in Mexico downing well-deserved pink grapefruit and
tequila-laced Palomas, Stef suggests, “Enjoy being away from massage
once in a while—and come back to it with renewed vigour and a different
Perhaps this is the integral message. If you are
feeling disenchanted, physically worn out or mentally taxed from being a
MT, putting leftover energies into a second career ‘distraction’ might
not be successful. Before any radical professional decisions, take some
time away from your career and re-evaluate its importance to you, your
relationships and lifestyle.
If you’re already two-timing—is the
split in your energy and time still cohesive and nurturing you
financially, academically, physically and mentally as you wished? Are
you ready to move in a brave new direction like Mary and Ari and retire
from massage therapy completely?
Choosing to go inactive can
allow you the time and freedom to trial another career option, take
additional courses and reassess. Maybe a combination career like Stef’s
ticks all your boxes of needs and satisfaction. Maybe you’ll find
yourself in his B&B Boot Camp class—or better yet, indulging in
those French toasted croissants with some stiff coffee at the Hillcrest
while you plot your future.