Meet Kristin Kitchen, a Hotelier Dedicated to Helping the Local Community and Spotlighting African-American Culture and History
Community-based tourism, in which locals invite tourists to visit their neighborhood while providing overnight accommodations, offers an investigative way to explore an area. This form of tourism is essential to sharing parts of Black American culture with each other. Kristin Kitchen, serial hotelier and owner of Sojourn Heritage Accommodations, grew her hotel brand with this exact concept in mind.
Kitchen opened her first bed-and-breakfast, Six Acres B&B, in a sprawling two-story, nine-bedroom house that helped carry runaway slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Set along Mill Creek, Six Acres is located on — you guessed it — six acres of land in College Hill, outside Cincinnati, Ohio, where Kitchen grew up.
"We had our high school graduation party at Six Acres before the house fell to ruins. My classmate's family owned the house. His mom told me the history and I held on to that story," says Kitchen. "Eleven years later, after graduating from college, I joined a church and would ride past it all boarded up and hanging on by a thread and I'd say, 'I gotta do something about that house!' It called me. [The ancestors] called me."
After massive renovations to restore the historic, 6,000-square-foot home with great care, Kitchen opened the bed-and-breakfast over 15 years ago and has been an advocate for utilizing local vendors, from soaps to linens to the breakfast table.
In Miami's historic Overtown neighborhood, Kitchen opened her second location in December 2019 — the Dunns Josephine Hotel — as an ode to the Harlem Renaissance. Staying true to the community tourism theme, the 15-room boutique hotel pays tribute to Black-American literary and entertainment legends, including Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway, Marcus Garvey, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday.
"It was always my goal to employ and train the homeless community that surrounds this neighborhood, so it was a no-brainer to engage them when the tourism industry came to a halt," says Kitchen. The Dunns Josephine Hotel sprung into action to support the demands of its neighbors, developing a plan to partner with the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. "Prior to the pandemic, I had already signed up to employ the homeless, so it was a natural fit. You can't be in the community and not be a part of the community," says Kitchen. "Our mission with Sojourn Heritage is community tourism. Our tagline is: 'When we thrive, our community thrives.' Housing the homeless is part of that community mission."
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, guests are encouraged not to exit their rooms unless they're going to a specified appointment, and most are equipped with a cell phone to connect with hotel staff. Laundry and meals are also provided to each guest, in addition to hygiene products and toiletries.
"One year after opening our doors, I am proud of the work we are doing... I am proud to represent the community of Overtown and the city of Miami. I am proud to show what it looks like to look out for your community and make sure you are in line with its evolution, as well as the people who make up the fabric of such a diverse tapestry," says Kitchen.
Kitchen's third location, opening in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, promises the same type of special treatment. With specialized excursions, The Avent on the Falls bed-and-breakfast opens in May and is being marketed as an all-Black experience: Sleep, dine, and shop from Black-owned businesses. Each room has soap, toothbrushes, towels, and linens created by Black-owned companies. It's an experience that she hopes will urge other hotels to follow.
"We are opening our newest location, The Avent on the Falls, to share the rich African-American history of the Rocky Mount community," says Kitchen.
Hometown of jazz legend Thelonious Monk, the city of Rocky Mount is spearheading the creation of their own Monk village, which will house a group of Black-owned businesses that share the same mission of community tourism. Blacktoberfest (a Black-owned beer festival), Harlem Brew South, Mechanics & Farmers Bank (a Black-owned financial institution), and Black Cotton (a family-run cotton farm, home decor, and apparel line) have already partnered and come on board, opening locations and fostering relationships in the small town, which has an estimated 53,000 residents. There is history here — and Kristin Kitchen and others are building a community for the public to learn more.