Meet The Howard Grads Creating A Hotel Empire That Caters To Black People
courtesy of Moor Hotel
Imagine checking into your hotel and seeing products in your room that you can actually use — Shea Moisture, black soap, everything that caters to your unique Black needs. Damon Lawrence and Marcus Carey aim to make your hotel dreams come true with The Moor Hotel in New Orleans, which is officially open for business and exclusively dedicated to the celebration of Black culture and history.
The two Howard grads attended the HBCU at the same time, but didn’t cross paths until years later when they were living in Oakland, California. After meeting at a party and then days later for coffee, the duo started a partnership that’s proving to be worthwhile. In addition to The Moor, the entrepreneurs are opening additional hotels across the country, spreading that good hospitality one city at a time. We talked to them about their journey, the empire they’re building and what it means to create a restful space that is both for us, and by us.
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How did this partnership come together?
Marcus: We both love the hotel business as customers. Damon loved it from spending ten years working in it. He got to understand that it was possible to own this space. I saw in the press that he went to Howard and I didn’t understand how I didn’t know this guy at Howard. One night we were at the same party, I go over and introduce myself, and said let’s get coffee. We kicked it and talked about why Black culture and hospitality makes sense. The partnership is a marriage. Damon is incredibly skilled at the creative approach. What he needed help on was the business side, which is the skillset I kind of focus on.
Why is it important to create these types of spaces, exclusively dedicated to our people?
Marcus: There are so many ways the world has been inhospitable to our people, it’s high time for the exact opposite. It’s high time to be aggressive with that message. If you like it, and you’re an ally, then you’re welcome. Our products are not for everybody and we recognize that, we are okay with that. There are enough people who do support and like it.
Damon: One of our slogans that caught on is “There’s room for you.” We’ve seen so many of these things happen —the shootings, the Airbnb while black, all these events that have happened culturally makes it seem like there is no room for us. We literally wanted to make room for people and give people a safe space, all the way down to the products we put in the room. There’s a lot of Shea Moisture and black soap products. We felt it was needed. We didn’t see it and we wanted to create it.
How did your experiences at Howard prepare you to start your own business, specifically one geared toward Black people?
Marcus: Howard teaches you how diverse our people are. You think you’re getting the same Black experience and you find out that our cultures are completely different. The food, the language… like saying soda or pop… those cultural differences are exciting to learn and to honor. Ultimately that’s why we made our business. We know Black culture is diverse and varies. We have a huge canvas to draw on and to pay homage to.
How was opening week? Was it everything you imagined?
Damon: We opened booking on July 1st, but for people who wanted to stay during Essence Fest, we allowed them to book a little earlier than that. It was amazing. The women behind BLK MKT Vintage and RUNGRL set up shop at Essence Festival and stayed with us. We’re located in the mid-city of New Orleans, right next to the trolley car, and they loved the proximity.
Marcus: It’s funny. When we were thinking through who we’re creating projects for, we hoped that as many people as possible would enjoy our space. But our design aesthetic and ethos comes from Black creative nomads. We believe that if you build hotel products for those people, you’ve effectively built the best hotel product for any person. The ladies who stayed with us are Black entrepreneurs. We’ve been able to watch them come down for Essence with a lot of work to do, and then come back to Moor to rest and reset.
I know you have another hotel opening in 2019 in Oakland called ‘The Town.’ What about the city entices you?
Damon: The city of Oakland is amazing. When I first had the idea [to open up a hotel], Oakland was at the top of the list. One, it’s a city that will embrace anything having to do with Black culture. Historically, it’s going to embrace it. Also, the city has a hotel need. The quality and list of options are very very limited. There wasn’t a brand that spoke to what Oakland is about and told the story well. I’ve learned more about the culture, the people, and what make it unique. It will be an honor to pay homage to it and the people who live there.
Will there be more locations?
Damon: The number of properties we want to open is unlimited. We’re looking at a bunch of different markets that have an interesting and important story to tell. Top of mind is D.C., Brooklyn, Detroit, Miami, Inglewood. The hope is to go international into the Caribbean. We haven’t put a cap on it. We see ourselves in the next 10 to 20 years is having at least 20 to 30 properties worldwide.
What is the best and worst part of being an entrepreneur, and what lessons have you learned along the way?
Marcus: The best part is the flexibility of life’s most valuable resource, which is time. When I worked in corporate America I was requesting time off so I could go to wherever. Now I can work from anywhere. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. The worst part is the mental hurdles to this journey, and it can weigh on you. There’s uncertainty, not knowing what will happen and how it will play out. It’s exciting for sure, but your livelihood is at stake, and you’ll have a couple tough days.
Damon: Dictating for yourself how you spend your time, is the best thing ever. But hotels never close, so you could be working late at night or early in the morning. It’s hard. The scariest thing is when you create something and you have to let the world experience it. I would hear stories about artists working on an album and it would take them so long to release it. It’s very similar to our effort. A little bit of apprehension about putting it out to the market and how it’s going to respond, that fear is healthy, but it is a daunting thought. I wouldn’t however trade that for anything, and the response has been amazing. We’re booked almost to the end of the year. We are really appreciative of that.