There are two things about Duluth innkeeper Tim Allen that intrigue guests when they come to stay at his bed-and-breakfast, twice voted the best B&B in the nation on TripAdvisor, in 2012 and 2016. The first is his name, which he shares with the star of "Home Improvement," "Last Man Standing" and "Toy Story."
"That wasn't even his real name: It was Tim Dick, and he served time in prison in Sandstone — look it up," Allen said. "But Tim Allen is a pretty common name around here. There are five of us in Duluth alone."
Guests also are curious about Allen's previous career, as a missileer, or nuclear missile officer, in the U.S. Air Force. These are the highly trained men and women who operate the nation's launch control systems in bunkers across the country.
"I had every job in missiles — trajectory analysis, targeting, I flew airborne command post, you name it," Allen said. "People think it's about pressing a button to launch, but it's much more than that. Matthew Broderick, in 'War Games,' has a pretty accurate representation of what crews do to launch a missile."
Allen retired from the Air Force 15 years ago to the North Shore, where he and his wife, Angie, bought the A.G. Thomson House Bed and Breakfast. It was her idea. She had followed him wherever his career took him, often in seven-year stints to places with ballistic missiles such as Omaha; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Rapid City, S.D.
"We didn't see the world," Angie said.
Tim promised that he would follow her wishes in the next chapter of their lives.
"Everywhere we've lived, we've restored old houses," Angie said. "Old homes are living beings. They need you to keep them vibrant and alive, either through renovation or through having people in them."
Houses also have personalities, Angie continued, and none that they experienced was as big as the A.G. Thomson House, designed in 1909 by architect Edwin Hawley Hewitt, who also designed St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral and the CenturyLink Building, both in Minneapolis, and the Blake School in Hopkins.
"When we bought it, it needed a paint job," Angie said. "It was blue, teal blue like you would see along the ocean on the East Coast. But we painted it yellow, white and black. Even though it's a grand, Dutch Colonial house with formal elements, it's a happy house. We've tried to decorate it so it's homey — happy and homey."
The couple gutted and redid the seven guest bedrooms, each with its own fireplace. They renovated the kitchen. They put in a high-efficiency boiler and updated the electrical wiring and plumbing.
Outside, they put in perennial gardens and built a gazebo and a pergola. Tim constructed a waterfall and pond using boulders that were on the property.
The Allens, who started dating in high school in central Wisconsin, will mark their 38th wedding anniversary in October. They have become experts at renovating. And Angie's skills, in jobs that always ended abruptly when Tim was transferred, include accounting and floral arranging. But working in hospitality was another ball of wax.
"I like to decorate and to cook," Angie said. "But owning a bed-and-breakfast means you're doing something different every day. You have to be ready to pivot."
The job has been their teacher. And if they didn't get to see the world, at least they are bringing the world to their door. Guests from far and wide have included a Bob Dylan fan from Australia who culminated her pilgrimage at Dylan Fest.
"She was a delight, and was so taken with being here, last I heard she was looking at buying property in Duluth," Angie said.
Tim and Angie recalled a couple who first visited when they were dating, then got engaged and later married at their B&B. "Now they drop the kids off at grandma's and come for an escape," Angie said.
The TripAdvisor ratings put the Allens on cloud nine.
"It was a total surprise," Tim said. "Who knows their algorithm? I guess people rated us highly."
What's their secret sauce?
"None of this is rocket science," Tim said. "We treat people well. They're on a getaway, a vacation, so we don't give them a reason not to be happy. We like to joke that when you treat people well, even the food tastes better."
Angie said their breakfasts are special without being pretentious. "We don't have plain French toast or eggs. We make something special, like, but it's not hoity-toity.
And their place is conveniently located in the middle of Duluth's Historic Mansion District, with 2½ acres on a quiet dead-end street with lighted off-street parking.
Recently, the Allens helped their daughter with a fixer-upper, which she brought back to life and flipped. That awakened a yen they did not know they had, Angie said. That, plus the fact that they are now grandparents, means that they are ready to part with their lovingly restored B&B.
"Our focus has shifted," Tim said. "I'm between house flips now — buying old homes and renovating them. We don't want to be doing it when we're over it, so maybe it's time to reinvent ourselves."
Susan Dusek of Edina Realty, email@example.com, 218-390-6673, has the listing for this $1.35 million property.