MIAMI — Jamila Ross and Akino West knew they would need a little luck if they were going to keep their Overtown hotel afloat during the pandemic.
You could say they won the lottery.
Ross and West won a $10,000 grant for their Copper Door Bed & Breakfast last week from the Beygood Foundation, a collaboration between the entertainer Beyoncé and the NAACP to support Black-owned businesses affected by the coronavirus.
And that’s not all. In August, after opening a pop-up restaurant while their hotel remained largely uninhabited because of coronavirus restrictions, the couple won $25,000 from Discover Card, which dedicated $5 million to helping Black-owned restaurants. Together with a small business loan, it has allowed the couple to reinvest in their business.
It was a turnaround of fate for Ross and West, who have had to find new ways to keep their dream 22-room hotel going.
“You just felt there was a one-in-a-million chance,” Ross said, still in disbelief.
Ross and West renovated the abandoned Demetree Hotel in 2018, leaning into the area’s Black cultural roots and turning it into a boutique bed and breakfast. Ross used her experience in hotels to run the front of the house and West, a skilled chef and protégé of James Beard award winner Michael Schwartz, paired it with a menu of upscale soul food.
When their hotel closed for months due to the pandemic, the couple opened a pop-up they called Rosie’s, a version of a full-scale restaurant they hoped to eventually open at the hotel. It featured West’s take on soul food available to go and for delivery. It became a hit — especially after people started looking for ways to support Black-owned businesses amid the social justice movement.
Still, Ross, who runs the business side, kept looking for ways to keep their bills paid. They got a discount from their landlord and qualified for a low-interest federal small business loan; Ross spent two to four hours a day applying for grants. The couple also partnered with the non-profit World Central Kitchen, which paid the restaurant about $10 a meal to make about 2,000 meals they gave away at polling places during early voting.
“I busted my tail, applying and looking for solutions,” she said.
The loan, the meal program and $35,000 in grants allowed the couple to reinvest in the parts of their business that were working.
They built an outside dining area for Rosie’s, which can seat 15 people at a time. They constructed a new, bigger kitchen in a portable trailer behind the hotel and expanded their hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. They still offer delivery and takeout during those hours.
A pair of small businesses, Say Sukii florist and Golden Flowers MIA, designed an entryway for their outdoor dining area. And local public relations company, The Dana Agency, offered them three months of pro-bono service in an effort to highlight minority-owned businesses. And they even hired a pair of new employees, former interns from Johnson & Wales in North Miami.
“We were able to create a really inviting space with a super-cool urban garden feel,” Ross said. “The energy feels so good.”
Meanwhile, they focused on contact-free hotel stays and are investing in keyless, app-based door locks as a way to make their hotel more accommodating while limiting interactions to keep down COVID-19 cases. New reservations have brought their hotel occupancy back up to 15 to 20% — nowhere near their peak season, but enough to keep the lights on. They also are offering their outdoor space for small weddings with package deals for couples and their families.
The future isn’t what Ross calls bright, not yet. But during an unpredictable 2020, she and West have hope.
“We started by hitting all these road bumps,” she said. “But we have been able to pivot in a few different ways.”
THE COPPER DOOR
Boutique hotel and Rosie’s pop-up restaurant, 439 NW 4th Avenue, Overtown in downtown Miami. 305-454-9065, copperdoorbnb.com
By CARLOS FRÍAS, The Miami Herald
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