Couple resurrects legendary Miami hotel, blending historic roots with contemporary flair

Snapshot

  • Ran a successful rental property on Airbnb alongside burgeoning careers in gastronomy
  • Success ignited idea to build B&B on site of historic hotel to combine culinary and hospitality skills
  • Opening of 22-room Copper Door in 2018 dovetailed with renaissance of historically African-American district
  • Grandma’s house-meets-Savannah-style B&B vibe proves a hit with Airbnb’s audience

As soon as Jamila and Akino walked into the boarded-up hotel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood a couple of years ago, they knew that they found what they’d been looking for.

“This is the place,” Jamila recalls telling Akino. “It just has so much potential.”

The couple had met several years earlier while studying at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. They rose up the ranks of the local culinary industry and spent some time in Europe, where Akino worked at a renowned restaurant in Copenhagen, and Jamila took trips to the Middle East to help open new restaurants in Kuwait and Dubai. After returning to the United States, Jamila managed a few Airbnb rentals in Fort Lauderdale as a side gig. The two had been thinking about dipping their toes into the hospitality industry, and Jamila wanted to understand how they could build a business as hosts.

The couple began to figure out that they shared the same entrepreneurial goals, and that their skill sets meshed well: Jamila tends to focus on the big picture, while Akino zeroes in on the day-to-day. While living in the Buena Vista section of Miami, they purchased a nearby property. They listed it on Airbnb, where they knew they would get widespread exposure. Their success with it gave them confidence that they could manage the day-to-day needs of guests, and eventually led them to a new business idea: a boutique hotel that would allow them to combine their experience with hospitality and food in one place.

Akino and Jamila combine their culinary and hospitality skills at The Copper Door B&B in Miami

A history too good to pass on 

And now here they were, visiting the kind property they dreamed of. It seemed like the perfect place to put their restaurant and hosting experience to work, while embracing the history of one of Miami’s most vital neighborhoods at the same time.

The boarded-up building, once known as Demetree Hotel, had been owned by controversial entrepreneur Jimmy Demetree, who was “almost like a Robin Hood” in the historically African-American Overtown neighborhood, Jamila says. The hotel was built in the 1940s and regularly housed famous musicians who came through the neighborhood. Jamila and Akino realized it would be the perfect place for a bed-and-breakfast that would allow Akino to show off his cooking skills and would attract guests seeking to embrace a historical Miami experience on Airbnb.

Mixing tradition with modernity

The couple bought the property and updated it, working to preserve as much of the original character as they could, while also providing guests with a modern feel. When they pulled up the carpet on the second floor, they discovered beautiful hardwood that “screams of the originality of the building,” Jamila says. They managed to restore the original hotel front desk, and turned an old dresser into a hot beverage station in the lobby. In addition, they created a lobby gallery and contracted with African-American artists—many of them local to Miami—to display their works, which rotate quarterly, with some pieces available for purchase.

“You can’t be in this space and not realize that there’s a story,” Jamila says. “I think it speaks not only to the originality of the neighborhood, but to the TLC that Akino and I have put into the space.”

Artful meals that foster community

The Copper Door Bed & Breakfast officially opened its doors in the summer of 2018 with 22 airy rooms, many with city views. The opening was ideally timed, as it coincided with a renaissance of the Overtown neighborhood. The property, which remains the only boutique hotel in the area, is situated near the Miami River and is within walking distance of a number of restaurants. It’s also close to downtown and South Beach, as well as a nearby train station. “It’s a super unique experience,” Jamila says. “It’s a combination of a grandma’s house, Savannah-style B&B, but in this hip, culturally driven place like Miami.”  

Akino’s breakfasts, which include a variety of eggs benedict offerings, a porchetta-and-egg sandwich, and other delicacies, are among the Copper Door’s highlights. “Akino’s a high-end chef,” Jamila says. “So you’re getting this artfully thought-out meal first thing in the morning when you’ve barely had a sip of your coffee. Your mind is completely blown once the plate is put in front of you.”

“You can’t be in this space and not realize that there’s a story.”

Jamila, Copper Door Bed & Breakfast

The breakfasts have helped to foster a sense of community among guests. “They give [guests] the opportunity to bounce off ideas in terms of what’s to do, what have you done, what’s worth it, what’s not, what happy hour joints are the best,” she says. The meals also create an opportunity for her and Akino, she says, “to jump in and give advice.”

Expanding the footprint

While Jamila says The Copper Door is still a bit of a work in progress, business has been strong. And Airbnb has been a large part of their strategy from the start since it is a magnet for travelers who seek the kind of unique experience that The Copper Door provides. More than a third of guests come from Airbnb. Jamila expects that will soon climb to half, as continued exposure and strong reviews create their own momentum, and as the couple leverages more of Airbnb’s professional hosting tools. They’ve used the Airbnb platform, for instance, to message guests after check-in to ask if they need anything. “It’s details like that that bring light to the fact that we’re here for you,” Jamila says. “It does create a more intimate experience.”

Akino is working to renovate an adjacent cafe and planning to expand his breakfast offerings into a full restaurant that will be open to the public. The couple are also eyeing additional iconic properties in the neighborhood as they consider opening a second bed and breakfast. With Airbnb fueling their success, their entrepreneurial dreams are growing apace. “It really feels like the sky’s the limit,” Jamila says.

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