Author, editor and bed & breakfast owner, Monique Greenwood, is a pioneer in the hospitality sector with an incredible backstory: after leaving her role as Editor-in-Chief at ESSENCE magazine, Monique decided to pursue innkeeping full-time.
Merging her professional aptitude with her personal interests, and the desire to build a family legacy, Monique knew real estate acquisition was the way to go. Alongside her husband, in 1995, Monique opened the first location of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast in Brooklyn, NY. To date, they’ve opened four additional locations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
Read on to discover how Monique Greenwood moved from legacy media to moguldom in the first installment of our blog series, Leaders in Lodging.
Maintaining Work/Life Balance
HotelierCo: For Women’s History month, we knew we wanted to speak with you about strides you’re making in the hotel landscape. However, knowing how much you have on your plate, we also doubted you’d have the time! [Laughs] Being a writer, a publisher, hotelier, a mom, a wife – how do you juggle all of that?
Monique Greenwood: Well, juggle is a good word because people often ask about balance, and there is no real balance to that, right?
Monique Greenwood: I look at work and my personal life on a scale. Your personal life, your family, that’s supposed to outweigh the rest but there’s you right in the middle of the scale. You’re standing in the middle, and unless you’re strong then it’s difficult to achieve the right work/life balance for you. What I have learned, as a work in progress, is that the first thing you have to is self-check [to maintain balance in life.
So, I tend to wake up early in the morning, at least an hour before I need to start my work day, and that is my time. It’s not my time for my husband, it’s not my time for my millennial daughter…it’s my time for me. I try to put everybody on notice that, that’s what it is.
I’m intentional on a day-to-day basis. Before I go to bed every night I make a list of things to do. I make mine at night because I need to put that somewhere so I can have a good night’s sleep and not dwell on it all night. “Do I have enough of this?” “Oh, tomorrow I need to do that!” I don’t want [thoughts like these] in my head before I go to sleep. So, I write it down and then I’m done with it – and I can have a good night’s sleep. Then I can wake up in the morning, intentional, and start to tackle it.
HotelierCo: You were inspired by your grandfather, Benjamin Greenwood. I learned that he not only operated a grocery store but also owned a moving and storage company.
Tell us about how his perseverance and success in the face of adversity. How did that inspire you to delve into entrepreneurship?
Monique Greenwood: Well, I really didn’t know my grandfather because he died when I was young. But I followed his story and learned what it took for him to succeed. He didn’t take no for an answer, [he knew the solution was to] find another way. I learned you’ve got to be flexible enough to pivot and take advantage of different opportunities that may not be what you proposed or had in mind.
I never grew up wanting to own a bed & breakfast. I didn’t know anything about what a bed and breakfast was. I always wanted to be a journalist.
Once I realized that owning a bed and breakfast tied into my personal passions of decorating and entertaining, and in my belief that wealth is created through real estate acquisition, that’s when I decided to tap into that. You can still use all of your assets, your skills that are transferable.
I’m just inspired by my grandfather because he didn’t take no for an answer. He never got angry. He just got creative and figured out how [to excel professionally].
Leaving a Dream Job
HotelierCo: You were the Lifestyle and Style Director for five years at ESSENCE before become the Editor-in-Chief in 2000. However, you stepped down after writing your second book, Having What Matters: The Black Woman’s Guide to Creating the Life You Really Want, in 2001.
To put the magnitude of your decision in context, ESSENCE is the longest-operating magazine catering to a predominately African-American women audience in the United States.
What was it about hotel ownership that made you decide to leave a dream job?
Monique Greenwood: It was definitely a dream job! I’d decided that by the time I was a teenager, seeing ESSENCE on the coffee table in my family home.
After majoring in journalism and minoring in fashion at Howard University…I moved to New York City. I started my career at Fairchild Publications as an editor, working my way to ESSENCE and then I was there as an editor.
Unfortunately, I realized that I needed to love me more because I was working a magazine and doing a bed and breakfast and being a good civic-minded person in my community while also trying to be a good mother, good wife, good church woman – I was good to everybody else and everything else that needed me. So I had to make that difficult decision, and I decided to leave.
I felt like I was clear about my purpose in life and the purpose was having my people live their best lives. There were many ways in which I could do that. I could do that in the pages of the magazine but I could also do that at the breakfast table So. I really had gotten to a point where something had to go in order to hold on to me.
At the end of the day I’m really all about legacy building and I realized that I couldn’t leave my job to my daughter. But I could leave her a business that she could launch, and a portfolio that she could manage if she chooses to.
That was ultimately when I had to make a decision about what to take off of my plate. It became more about the job than the business that I was building, and I understood that what I was building a legacy.
How Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns Led to Reality Television Success
HotelierCo: So, you all had a reality television series on The Oprah Winfrey Network, ‘Checked Inn’. How did that opportunity come about?
Monique Greenwood: For about the last 10 years I was getting calls from different production companies that thought I might be a great addition to a reality show. At that time, back then, the ensemble cast of women who were allegedly friends [was the trend]; the “Housewives” model. That’s just not me. I don’t live a glamorous life, I live a life of hard work and you never see that showing on those shows. That is not who I am.
But apparently a network had put up a call for a reality television show that we ended up checking all of the boxes for. We ended up getting maybe six or seven calls in the span of one week from different production companies. We ended up signing with Lionsgate and they shopped us to several networks.
We didn’t go out looking for a reality show and didn’t come up with the concept for one. But when the production companies called and said that they really wanted to do with a reality show with beautiful people, in a beautiful space, having a beautiful experience, I knew.
It would be a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes for a black family-owned business to succeed. [The production company] wanted a woman to be the head of the business. They also wanted her to be outspoken. Of course, that was check, check, check! Then it happened.
HotelierCo: In the series you had a lot of notable guests visiting. Who are some of the celebrities you’ve had the pleasure of hosting?
Monique Greenwood: We treat every single one of our guests like they’re part of the family and I’m impressed by everybody who walks through the door, not just because someone else knows their name. Sometimes there may be an influencer from Instagram with trillions of followers or some rapper visit and I may not know who they are, but my daughter will! I’m just excited to know everyone’s name that walks through the door, and to make sure they know mine. I want to create an environment where real connections and real fellowship happens.
You saw a sampling of some of guests on the show but there’s been several notable people. There are times when we don’t even want to say who is there because they just want to run away from the world, but we’ve had (Blackishstar), Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, Mos Def and Dick Gregory, before he passed. But we don’t focus on that and they appreciate the fact that we don’t focus on that.
HotelierCo: Absolutely. I understand privacy is a high priority, especially when you’re trying to just get away. Speaking of privacy and exposure do you feel that the reality television experience helped or hurt your brand?
Monique Greenwood: Reality television completely helped my brand. When we finished that season at the end of 2017, we started 2018 fully booked every single weekend for the year. That had never happened before. We were there for 24 years and never did we go into the year with generally no availability for the whole year. That’s what the show did. It was basically a 1-hour commercial for the kind of experience a guest could expect at Akwaaba. People responded to that and we were grateful.
It was helpful, because it helped break down stereotypes that you typically see in on reality shows. There’s nobody arguing and screaming and throwing the bottle, there was none of that. It was exactly what we agreed to do, which was to shine the spotlight on these beautiful black people, beautiful black-owned establishment having a beautiful experience. That’s what the show was. That was really got revolutionary in the reality show space, and we were proud to bring that to the screen.
The Future for Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast
HotelierCo: So, you’ve now had the Akwaaba B&B brand for over 20 years. What would you say is the most rewarding thing about owning a bed and breakfast?
Monique Greenwood: The most personally rewarding thing about owning the house is being able to create the incredible working environment for the people who work here, and to contribute to the communities where you do business.
It’s always very rewarding when I show up at one of the properties and I see, in the Poconos for example, that there are people having a massage and folks sitting at the bar having a glass of wine. There are people swimming in the pool. Somebody is playing tennis. Some folks are over in the game room. People sitting on the porch reading a book. I just look around and say look at this, we are living. That’s a very satisfying experience to know that people can consume and greatly appreciate what you’re trying to deliver to them. That’s extremely important.
HotelierCo: What is next for Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast?
Monique Greenwood: The show had a very strong storyline about whether my daughter will take over the family business or not. I’d also like to find the creative space to write another book. I’d like to see how we leverage our brand in hospitality to create products that folks can use in their own homes.
HotelierCo: That’s awesome, Monique. My final question for you – what is one piece of advice that you would offer other women who may be interested in owning and operating any type of lodging establishment within the hospitality sector. Be it a boutique hotel or a B&B?
Monique Greenwood: I think women by nature are nurturers and so the hospitality space works for us very well. Sometimes we think that we don’t have all the skills necessary to run a business or own a business. But there are some skills that we have that we don’t recognize.
I’ve been doing this for 24 years and one of my best innkeepers was a wonderful woman with no hospitality experience. She hadn’t even stayed at a bed & breakfast before. But she rang my doorbell and she was standing there with some cookies that she had baked and some flowers that she had picked for her garden one day. She told me that nothing makes her happier than taking care of her family.
The kind of skills that she brought she could not be put on her resume, but she had tons of experience. She made folks happy. She liked to garden, she knew how to make things pretty. All those unique things, those soft skills, sometimes we don’t acknowledge them as women. So we don’t pursue our passions, because we think, we don’t have that skill set or that we’re not fully prepped. And that’s not the case.
As women, we have to leverage what we do have, and then ask for what we need. We don’t have to be experts across the board, or think that we have to be that way. We can find people that we add to our team, who know what we don’t know, and we can be great leaders, and build the visions that we dream of.
HotelierCo: Amen. I love it! Thank you so much for talking the time to talk with us today, Monique. This was wonderfully insightful.
Monique Greenwood: Absolutely!
To learn more about Monique Greenwood, you can follow her on Twitter @MoniqueAkwaaba. Click here to visit the official website for Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast Inns.