BLACK BUSINESS FEATURE: THE TOWN HOTEL OAKLAND, THE HOMAGE HOTEL GROUP
I was able to catch up with Damon Lawrence CEO and Creative Director of Homage Hotel Group. He is a native of Oakland, California and is getting ready to debut a black-owned boutique hotel slated to open Summer 2016. His goal is to have the first black-owned management company and brand. But I don’t want to give too much away, check out the interview below!
Soul Society 101: For those who don't know you, can you let our readers know what do and what's your current project?
Damon: I am the owner of the Homage Hotel Group, which features the lifestyle brand, Homage Hotels. Our current project is The Town Hotel, which is a lifestyle boutique concept in Downtown Oakland, California.
Soul Society 101: What made you want to leave your job and start Homage Hotel Group?
Damon: I've always wanted to have my own hotel company and brand but what made me finally decide to quit my job and pursue this business full time were a combination of things. First, I was tired of seeing all the negative publicity on the state of black affairs in America so for me this was my way of rebelling against those social issues we're dealing with currently. Second, time is my greatest resource right now so I had to weight the balance of a very demanding management position at a 5 Star hotel vs. making history in the hotel industry for myself. Finally, I just got fed up with waking up each day to make someone else's dream a reality. I felt that now it was my time to put my own plan in motion.
Soul Society101: Why do you think you saw no black faces at hotel properties you've worked at?
Damon: It wasn't that I saw no black faces but they were definitely scarce in relation to the population in those cities. I worked in hotels in Washington, DC & Baltimore and they both didn't have black representation relative to the population. It was even worse for management level employees. I was told at the 5 Star property I worked at that I was the first Black male to hold a management position in the front desk since the property opened 15 years ago. I believe there are many reasons for it but I won't get into those. The one thing I will say is that hospitality in America was started by black people. We were the first innkeepers, maids, butlers and housemen. So now we see that an industry we helped create has now made attempts to exclude us.
Soul Society 101: Why do you think it took so long for a black-owned Boutique Hotel Management company?
Damon: That's a question I think about often and I honestly don't have a solid answer. Blacks own only 1 percent of the hotels in this country and there are only 3 black owned hotel brands that I know of. But I’ve stopped trying to wonder why and realized that the time is now and its something I must do. I hope maybe this will open the door for more in the future.
Soul Society 101: Great! Why is "paying homage" to William Leidesdorff Jr important to you?
Damon: Paying Homage to these trailblazers in African American history is extremely important to me. I named the company Homage Hotel Group because I wanted to pay homage to the people in our history that made contributions to hospitality way before I did. I want their legacy to live on through me and my brand and I owe it to them because if it were for them I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this.
More specifically I felt Mr. Leidesdorff’s legacy was extremely important because of what he accomplished in the state I call home. As I studied him and looked deeper into his history I became enamored. It was clear that his story needed to be spoken loudly and this property was the way to do it. Leidesdorff was the first in California to open a port warehouse, open a hotel, open a horseracing track, start a school district and become superintendent of a school district. His hotel property was located next to his San Francisco port warehouse as a location for ship captains and seamen to rest. He named his property “The City Hotel” and since San Francisco has adopted the nickname “The City.” Oakland on the other hand has adopted the nickname “The Town” hence the name we chose for the property; The Town Hotel.
Soul Society 101: What makes Oakland the best place to build your hotel versus other cites like NYC, Atlanta, etc?
Damon: For one, those other markets are places I looked at including Washington DC & Baltimore; places I once worked. However those markets are heavily saturated, especially with black owned hotels. Oakland has a problem with hotel rooms in the fact that they don't have enough hotel rooms to address the increase in demand. For me in starting something new I had to make sure it’s primed for success from the beginning. Oakland presents the best opportunity to do that. Also, I’m from California and logistically starting in my home state is a way easier undertaking.
Soul Society 101: So you just re-launched another Indiegogo campaign. What did you learn from the last one that you are now implementing in this one?
Damon: I actually discontinued my Second Indiegogo campaign due to the fact that Indiegogo had allowed supporters of the cop that killed Walter Scott to keep their page up and stated they were staying out of it. I felt that I couldn't align my company and myself with a business like that. So we discontinued it. Currently, we’ve focused our attention on our investors and raising substantial capital.
Soul Society 101: What type of experience are you looking to created for black travelers who are staying at your hotel?
Damon: I’m looking to create the best experience for all travelers to my hotel. I’m looking to become the best brand in the world. I’ve learned in business that you can’t target such a specific niche and expect the business to reach its full potential. My competitors are Joie De Vivre, Ace Hotels, W Hotels & Kimpton. But the thing I hope to bring to the hotel market is the flavor and culture we exude. That’s what will set my property apart from the rest.
Soul Society 101: Thank so much for speaking with us Damon! Here at Soul Society 101 we wish you all the best! Is there anything your supporters need to know about what they can expect from you in the upcoming months?
Damon: I want everyone to know that I’m currently looking for investors in the Oakland Property and I have my investor packet available on my website at www.homagehotelgroup.com/investor and if anyone is interested they can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.