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For Akino West ’15 and Jamila (Ross) West ’15, history meets hospitality as they build a brand, revitalize communities, and prove themselves worthy of Queen Bey.

For newlyweds and Johnson & Wales University alumni Akino West ’15 and Jamila (Ross) West ’15, food is their love language.

It propelled them on their careers — Akino as a chef, and Jamila as a restaurant manager.

It serendipitously led them to open a boutique hotel together.

And it’s what landed them a little help from Beyoncé to carry them during the challenges of COVID-19.

They met in the spring semester of 2013 while pursuing their degrees in Culinary Arts and Food & Beverage Management respectively, at JWU’s North Miami Campus. Jamila complimented Akino on his group presentation after class. It was January 22, to be exact, notes Akino, who has stored his text messages with Jamila all the way back to Day One.

At JWU, a public speaking course Jamila’s mom encouraged her to take gave Jamila the skills she still uses for business grant pitches to this day. For Akino, tough Culinary Arts professors taught him discipline in the kitchen.

“I came for that challenge. I’m glad that they pushed me,” Akino says.

The couple dated briefly before their careers took them in separate directions. Jamila, who got her start in restaurants at The Bazaar by José Andrés, went on to oversee food & beverage operations for restaurants and hotels in New York, Dubai and Kuwait.

It almost feels like someone passed on a torch to us. JAMILA (ROSS) WEST '15

After working for Miami’s top chefs at Michael’s Genuine and Ghee, Akino moved to Copenhagen for an apprenticeship at Noma, often touted as one of the world’s best restaurants.

“I decided I wanted to work for nothing but the best,” he says.

Jamila and Akino reconnected in 2016 when they each returned to Miami. They put their culinary and hospitality (and relationship) skills to the test when they went into business together. They bought and ran an Airbnb in the Buena Vista neighborhood, which prepared them for their next adventure — opening a hotel.

Opening Their Doors

Together, Jamila and Akino opened The Copper Door B&B, a 25-room bed-and-breakfast where history meets hospitality. They were originally searching for a restaurant location when the couple stumbled upon the historic 1940s building in Miami’s Overtown that would become The Copper Door.

Once considered the Harlem of the South, Overtown was a cultural mecca for Black artists, athletes and entertainers in the 1950s. The neighborhood saw the likes of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Jackie Robinson and Cassius Clay come to town.

The neighborhood fell on hard times when Interstate 95 was built right through the middle of Overtown, forcing Black families out of their homes. This was one of many U.S. highway projects at the time that carved through Black communities. Over the decades, businesses shuttered, and Overtown’s remaining residents were left impoverished.

Guest room at The Copper Door

A guest room at The Copper Door; over the past year, the hotel has earned recognition in national outlets like Vogue, The New York Times, and Travel + Leisure. Photo: Mary Beth Koeth

In 2017, when Jamila and Akino came across that 1940s building — the former Demetree Hotel — it was boarded up and abandoned, but the entrepreneurial pair saw potential.

“Clearly we weren’t the only ones,” says Jamila, noting that Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem eatery Red Rooster and a Publix Supermarket have since opened up locations nearby.

As the couple restored the property, they fused contemporary design with a nod to history. Alongside The Copper Door’s sleek, modern conveniences, there were the preserved details from the original site — a restored front desk, a dresser repurposed as a lobby beverage station, and the white and seafoam green terrazzo mosaic at the entryway that read Demetree Hotel.

Attracting travelers from near and far, The Copper Door became a central part of the community’s cultural revitalization. The bright and airy lobby exhibited art from local Black artists, and the owners partnered with other area businesses like Argyle Coffee Roasters and eco-friendly Laundrify to provide their guests with a uniquely local lodging experience.

Jamila says they’re proud to have continued Overtown’s legacy of black entrepreneurship and expose travelers to off-the-beaten-path Miami: “It almost feels like someone passed on a torch to us.”

Pandemic Pivot

When The Copper Door was forced to temporarily shut its doors at the start of the pandemic, Jamila and Akino leaned on what they knew best — food. That April, they launched Rosie’s pop-up, a takeout and delivery-only concept operating out of the B&B.

Inspired by the communal breakfast previously served exclusively to their B&B guests, the couple created a simple comfort food menu of Southern classics, like Fish & Grits with collard green kimchi and Chicken & Waffles with crispy hot chicken and vanilla spiced waffles.

“To some degree, we’re two restaurant people who decided to open a boutique hotel, so food has always been where we’ve excelled,” Jamila says.

Named for Jamila’s mother, Rosie’s quickly became a Miami brunch favorite.

“It was feel-good food for a moment in time that was very uncomfortable. We tried to provide comfort through food,” Jamila says.

All the while, they latched onto a simple motivating mantra — “Don’t give up” — and their resilience was rewarded.

Jamila (Ross) West ’15 and Akino West ’15 at their bed & breakfast

As the couple restored the property, they fused contemporary design with a nod to history, such as in the entry of the hotel. Photos: Mary Beth Koeth

In American culture specifically, the owners of hospitality businesses tend to not be present, and they're certainly not a twentysomething woman, let alone a Black woman. JAMILA (ROSS) WEST '15

With a $10,000 grant from Beyoncé’s Beygood Foundation for Black-owned businesses and another $25,000 from Discover’s Eat It Forward, Jamila and Akino were able to expand Rosie’s pop-up by purchasing a trailer kitchen and building out patio seating for outdoor dining.

At the same time, driven by their love of food, Jamila and Akino found a way to give back to the community throughout the pandemic — partnering with Chef José Andrés’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen for weekly meal distributions.

“From the beginning of my culinary career, I worked with José Andrés restaurants, and I feel a great connection to that organization in particular. He’s a leader for our industry in this area,” Jamila says.

As part of those efforts, Jamila and Akino would provide students at a local public school — where the average household income is under $30,000 a year — with four meals to take home to their families for dinner. “Food is our way of talking, our way of reaching out to the community,” Akino says. “I feel that we can break barriers through food.”

Building a Brand

Over the past year, The Copper Door and Rosie’s have earned recognition in national outlets like Vogue, The New York Times, and Travel + Leisure — which Jamila hopes will empower future entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds.

“In American culture specifically, the owners of hospitality businesses tend to not be present, and they’re certainly not a twentysomething woman, let alone a Black woman,” Jamila told Travel + Leisure in a profile on female hoteliers. “I hope our culture gets to a place where the idea that anyone can be an entrepreneur on this scale is normalized.”

 

I hope our culture gets to a place where the idea that anyone can be an entrepreneur on this scale is normalized. JAMILA (ROSS) WEST '15

With the success of their pop-up, the couple plans to open Rosie’s as a permanent standalone restaurant in Little River, an up-and-coming cultural destination adjacent to Little Haiti.

“Little River and Little Haiti share a similar story to Overtown,” Jamila says. “We want to provide an elevated experience with outstanding food that pays homage to African-American culture and offers jobs and hands-on training that may fill a vacuum.”

Perhaps a nod to their Airbnb days, Rosie’s will open inside of a residential home they are renovating. Looking ahead, they’re hoping to open additional food concepts and boutique hotels in the spirit of the original Copper Door, which they ultimately shuttered this fall due to the tenuous nature of pandemic bookings. “We’re really focusing on building more of a hospitality brand,” Jamila says.

No matter what Copper Door 2.0 may look like, there’s one thing Jamila and Akino know for sure — good food will always be at the forefront. 

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