Jamila West always wanted to open a bread and breakfast. So when a developer told her about a perfect location, she and her husband, Akino West, jumped at the chance. That was in 2018.
The Copper Door B&B operated in Miami’s historically black neighborhood, Overtown, until 2020. When the pandemic hit, the two opened their restaurant Rosie’s downstairs thanks to about $50,000 in grant funding they received that year, from groups such as the Beygood Foundation and Discover Card.
Eventually the pandemic forced the bread and breakfast’s doors closed. But the Wests didn’t give up — instead they pivoted. They began operating Rosie’s as a popup. Last year they had more than $200,000 in revenue, the couple said.
Opening restaurants was always their North Star. Thanks to the funding and support they received in Overtown, the couple was able to pursue it.
Now they’re part of the legacy of the community.
“(The city) has created organizations, programs that embrace Black owned business and historic Overtown from a perspective of keeping the culture alive, making sure that people understand the story and know the story, and making sure that it doesn’t die,” West said. “I’ve been able to see that firsthand.”
An Anchor in Overtown
The building that housed the Copper Door B&B used to be Demetree Hotel, which many called “Moon’s Home” when it was once owned by a prominent Black business owner, Carl “Moon” Mullins.
Overtown’s streets used to be bustling and thriving with Black-owned businesses. Then the city built I-95 straight through it in the 1950s. Black neighborhoods around the country were razed to build interstate highways.
The Copper Door’s guests were typically tourists, many on their way to board cruise ships. The Wests often shared the history of their building with guests when they arrived or as they ate at communal tables downstairs.
A History of Black-Owned Businesses
“We learned more about historic Overtown and we have learned that Moon’s Home has been a Black business for 30 years before us,” Jamila West said. “It all just seemed to make sense and be a really integral part to making a name for ourselves in this part of the city.”
In early 2020, the Wests wanted to expand the business to include more food. The two are both trained chefs and have worked in the culinary industry for more than a decade. They imagined a more extensive breakfast menu than the amenity of staying in the inn. Akino West wanted to open a late-night chicken restaurant.
Then the pandemic hit, and the two decided if they were going to pivot, that was the time. “When this (the pandemic) happened, it was like, well, why don’t we create some comforting food during an uncomfortable time?” Jamila West said.
That’s when Rosie’s was born. They opened an outdoor kitchen with the grant funding to serve guests outside, which allowed them to comply with dining ordinances at the time.
Soon, Rosie’s became the main focus, as the pandemic kept tourists and guests away. The couple closed its doors in August 2020 and began looking for a new space. They found one a few neighborhoods away in Little River.
In the meantime, the couple formed a plan: they would pop up around Miami. “We’ve always kind of marketed ourselves as a pop up,” Jamila West said. But they ended up finding a more permanent home at a spot in nearby business center Converge Miami, which is located across I-95 from Overtown. Its previous owners were moving out, and offered to leave the setup for them.
Expansion in the Future
Even after their Little River location opens, the two plan to continue operating out of the Converge Miami space Monday-Friday, to cater to the coworking space goers and researchers. Already, they’ve started to make the pivot: the cafe operates as “7th” on Monday through Friday, serving grab-and-go options such as pastrami sandwiches and fresh bagels, pulling from Jamila West’s New York background, where she grew up. On the weekends, it remains Rosie’s.
The couple employ 10 people at their restaurant venture, and are looking to hire more.
More businesses have been opening in Overtown over the last five years, bringing in new jobs and new people, West said. The city has been supportive of the neighborhood’s growth, she said.
With a new grant from the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency, they plan to open an afro-fusion restaurant and bar called Negra Y Fuerte in the ground level of the first luxury apartment building in Overtown. The grant amount will be dependent on construction prices, she said.
When the environment changes, entrepreneurs have to change with it. The Wests had to close their B&B because of the pandemic, but that didn’t mean the end of their venture.
Root yourself in a community. The Wests’ location in Overtown and ties to the community helped them access grants. Whether your community is of place, or of people, finding one will help your company survive.
This story and others on Times of E are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.