All across the Outer Banks are people doing their best to make a living while still finding time to enjoy this wonderful place they call home. In this edition of Get to Know the Locals, you’ll meet two of them, Pam and John Buchholz, owners of The Atlantic Inn Hatteras in Hatteras village.
Four years ago the Buchholzes left behind high-profile careers with all the trappings of success to become innkeepers of The Atlantic Inn in Hatteras village. Built in 1928, the inn originally had 15 rooms and was the first and only hotel on Hatteras until the late 1940s. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and may have faced demolition if Pam and John hadn’t stepped in. After a year-long renovation and restoration project, they opened the door to The Atlantic Inn in April 2021.
John and Pam are not just the owners; they are also the managers and the workers. They can be found in the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. cooking and prepping for breakfast. Later they’re in reception, checking guests in and out, carrying luggage and helping guests find the best ways to spend their time on the island. In the evening they’re ensuring everyone has what they need for a restful night’s sleep.
They are committed to both maintaining the inn’s historic beauty and integrity and ensuring that the hotel is constantly evolving – and to being full-time residents of Hatteras Island. After four years of living in this small island village, they have become part of the community and definitely make the most of their time here.
Keep reading to learn what their life is like running a historic inn in a small island town.
How long have you lived on the Outer Banks and how did you end up here?
We’ve been in Hatteras Village for four years. After a combined 50+ years in healthcare and clinical research, we decided it was time for a change. So, we put our horse farm up for sale, our plan being to downsize considerably and to find a little place on the beach.
Whilst searching for our elusive little home, we came across a run-down, century-old inn in Hatteras, and the rest, like they say, was history! Within a couple of months, we had bought the aged hotel and would spend the next year renovating and restoring it. We opened the doors of The Atlantic Inn, Hatteras, in April 2021.
How did you get into this line of work?
Years of traveling for work and adventure took us around the world, staying in every kind of accommodation you can imagine. Along the way, we inadvertently learned a lot about what makes a great place to stay and what doesn't. Sometimes, we'd even talk about running our own hotel, using the best ideas from our travels. However, leaving our careers to breathe new life into a run-down old hotel seemed like just a crazy dream.
What did you do before you were in this business?
We came from healthcare and clinical research. John, with a background in exercise physiology, began in academia before moving into clinical research, specifically in the area of clinical trials. Pam, originally a cardiac physiologist, moved into clinical research working in healthcare, industry and latterly a senior director of clinical trials at Duke University, leading a division of approximately 450 people all working on various elements of global clinical trials.
What motivates you to work hard in your line of work?
We share the same driving force – the transformation we see in our guests from the moment they arrive to when they depart. It just takes a couple of days at the inn to see even the most stressed of travelers, happy and totally relaxed. It’s about creating a sanctuary where our guests can truly disconnect, breathe and rediscover their essence amidst the tranquility of Hatteras.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Through this adventure, we've been super fortunate to meet some truly remarkable and fascinating individuals – many of whom are now awesome friends. Our heartfelt mission for the inn is: “May all who enter as guests, leave as friends." We wanted the Atlantic Inn to be not just a place to leave your luggage, but as a home where guests feel as though they're reconnecting with longtime friends, a haven for genuine relaxation and warmth. What took us by surprise, however, was the depth of the connections we'd forge. We've been honored to welcome back many guests, time and again, with our current record holder having stayed with us an astounding 15 visits in three years!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Finding time for ourselves. During the busy season operating an inn is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day commitment, and unlike restaurants, which can close at the end of the day and typically close for one day every week, both the inn and us must remain accessible at all times. Our guests don't just pop in for an hour, they stay with us for several days at a time. From March through November, it's exceedingly rare for John and me to leave the inn together. Doing so requires us to block out all our rooms, often planning this break a year in advance.
Photo: A stay at The Atlantic Inn Hatteras includes a cooked homemade breakfast.
What’s your favorite OBX town or village?
Without a doubt Hatteras Village. It’s a truly special and unique place, unlike any other beach town in the world.
What is your favorite thing about living on the Outer Banks?
John: It’s a different world here in Hatteras . . . almost like stepping back in time to a friendlier, more laid-back and peaceful world.
Pam: Being surrounded by water in a place where I can see the raw and often wild, natural beauty of this island every day.
What is your favorite season on the Outer Banks?
John: Fall. It begins to get quieter as the schools go back, most of the restaurants are still open, and we can find time to relax together a little and reflect on our summer.
Pam: Winter. It’s a bit selfish, but I love often being the only person on the beach. Winter also gives us the opportunity to eat out and catch up with other permanent residents of the island, many of whom we only see in the off-season, as we are all too busy in the summer.
Photo: John playing on the beach in Hatteras with Bodie and Bailey.
What do you do for fun?
John: I’ve fished most of my life, but always in rivers and lakes. Now if I get some time to myself, I head to the beach with my fishing gear and fish in the ocean, although each time I cast I'm not quite sure if I will be able to eat my catch or it will eat me!
Pam: Be in, on or around water. Coming from a small beach town in Scotland, I'm happiest when I’m near water. I’m still trying to master windsurfing, and I’m thinking kiteboarding is next on my list!
What do you do in the off-season?
Leave the inn together at the same time! We spend a lot of time at the beach, eating out, hanging out with our yellow Labradors Bailey and Bodie, catching up with friends and traveling to see family.
It’s also the time that we do any major repairs or improvements to the inn, as we don’t have to worry about disturbing guests or making a mess.
What’s your favorite beach access?
John: Ramp 55. I can drive along the beach all the way to Hatteras Inlet and stop at any point to set up my fishing pole.
Pam: The small walkway, 3 minutes from our front door where I can access the beach to watch the sunrise or find a quiet spot to write.
Photo: Pam enjoying a day off at the beach.
Describe your perfect day off.
A sunny day, leisurely breakfast on the deck, spend time with our dogs, the Jeep packed with our beach essentials, toys and a delicious picnic basket, then off for the afternoon at the beach between Ramp 55 and Hatteras Inlet. Followed by a yummy dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, hopefully catching the sunset.
Do you see more sunrises or sunsets?
John: We are really fortunate that we get to see our share of both. We’re awake at 5 a.m., so we always catch the sunrise, and are around the inn for sunset, hopefully sitting out in our Courtyard Deck enjoying a glass of wine with our guests/friends.
Pam: Sunrises. I’m often found on the beach, when the predawn darkness gives way to the day. This time, right before the sun peeks above the horizon, holds a magic unlike any other. Though no two sunrises are ever the same, one thing remains constant: the untamed beauty of Hatteras beach.
Photo: Pam's favorite walkway to the beach.
What is your go-to Hatteras Island restaurant?
That’s a really tough question, as we have several go-to restaurants that we love here on Hatteras Island, and our choices can be dependent on the season, our mood and then of course there is the matter of our culinary curiosity that day . . . what kind of food do we feel like? Seafood, pizza, good pub food, quick snack, steaks, homestyle cooking?
Our favorites include Hatteras Sol Restaurant and Isola Pizzeria and Bar in Hatteras, Tavern on 12 in Frisco, and Gidget’s Pizza and Pasta in Avon.
For a special occasion, would you rather order take-out, go out to eat or cook something at home?
We both love to eat out when we get the opportunity, and let’s face it: We are totally spoiled for choices in Hatteras; the dining-out options are quite spectacular!
What is your favorite local seafood?
John: Hatteras shrimp are the absolute best; there is a sweet something that just sets them apart from shrimp caught anywhere else.
Pam: Whatever local fish is “catch of the day” at our awesome Hatteras restaurants or fish houses. You can’t beat the taste of fish served to your table that was caught only a few hours before – red drum, tilefish, flounder, tuna, mahi mahi, wahoo, etc.
What’s one thing you wish more Outer Banks visitors knew?
That they don't have to stay in a super expensive beach rental to enjoy what our beautiful islands have to offer. Small hotels and inns, like ours in Hatteras, provide a cozy, intimate experience that can't be matched. These places often offer unique charms, a delicious, cooked breakfast included, personalized service and a deeper connection to the local community. Plus, they're a gateway to the island's natural beauty and history, often situated in prime locations that allow for easy exploration. Choosing to stay in a smaller hotel or inn not only supports local businesses but also opens up a different, perhaps more authentic, Outer Banks experience.
Photo: A pre-wedding gathering at The Atlantic Inn. The inn has space to host retreats, events and gatherings.
Where do you go on vacation?
Vacation? Why would we want to go anywhere else? We have absolutely everything we need right here in Hatteras. We're blessed with great weather, pristine sandy beaches that rank among the world's finest, awesome watersports, unrivaled fishing and boating, and local dining that's nothing short of phenomenal. Yet, what’s invaluable and sets Hatteras apart for us, is its tranquility – a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of more commercialized beach towns. Here, we find the perfect balance: the thrill of adventure when the mood strikes and the bliss of solitude when we need to disconnect and recharge. Hatteras offers all this and infinitely more! So, short of trips to see family and friends, we would love extended time to enjoy our very own vacation paradise.
Do you have any side hustles?
John: No, the upkeep of the inn keeps me busy. I leave the side hustles to Pam.
Pam: As a life coach, I created a website and blog – myatlanticlife.com – to share my journey and creative expressions, finding an unexpected audience that seems to appreciate my musings, meanderings and pictures. I also continue to pursue my passion for life coaching, focusing on helping women face life's challenges. Additionally, I host retreats at the inn, offering a transformative experience for women to rediscover themselves through workshops, activities and relaxation.
Do you have any pet projects or is there a local nonprofit that you’re passionate about?
John: Maintaining a century-old inn, in such a remote location is a full-time job and more. There is always something to fix or improve, the inn is our "pet project." When we bought the inn we committed to not only restoring and maintaining the inn to ensure its incredible history survives, but also to continue to make improvements so the inn can thrive.
Pam: When we moved to Hatteras, we spent all our time renovating the inn. I wanted to find a way to connect with our new community, so I contacted the Hatteras Island Meals group (HIM). HIM’s mission is: “To serve anyone on Hatteras Island who is unable to prepare nutritious meals, has no one to help with meal preparation, requires short-term assistance while recovering from an illness or medical condition or needs long-term meals.” As a healthcare professional I thought this might be a good fit for me and would also provide an interest outside of renovating the inn. Four years later, delivering lunches to some of the most wonderful people in Hatteras Village and Frisco is still one of the highlights of my week. I've discovered tiny, hidden, backroads, made some great friends and learned some of the remarkable history of our village.
A heartfelt thanks to all who make this possible – those who are kind enough to donate, all the other awesome volunteers involved and to the restaurants that provide the delicious and nutritious meals we deliver. I’ll give a quick shout out to the great work done by Sonny’s Restaurant in Hatteras Village and Diamond Shoals Restaurant in Buxton, who provide the awesome lunches. HIM delivers 9,000 meals annually at a cost of $35 a week to feed one recipient, so donations to the charity are always welcome!
What’s one item on your bucket list?
In our small apartment that’s part of the inn, we've dedicated a large chalkboard as our dream Adventure Map. Whenever one of us comes across a fascinating destination, dreams up a unique experience worth traveling for, or yearns to visit friends and family who live afar, we jot it down on this board. As our collection of ideas grows and the board fills up, we capture its contents with a photograph, then erase everything to make room for new inspirations. This ongoing ritual is more than just planning; it's the blueprint for our future explorations. By the time we retire, these photographs will serve as the guide to an incredible journey – our Adventure Map.
Learn more about The Atlantic Inn Hatteras here.