With nothing more than the light from their cellphone flashlights, Jamila Ross and Akino West peered into history and saw the future home of The Copper Door Bed & Breakfast.
What started out as a scouting trip for a possible restaurant space quickly turned into a moment of deeper significance. Ross and West — a couple with a rich culinary and hospitality background — were touring the boarded-up Demetree Hotel in Overtown.
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“This is the place,” Ross said, goosebumps forming on her skin. “This is significant, historic Miami.”
The namesake of Jimmy Demetree, a controversial figure in Miami history for his frequent brushes with the law, the landmark building at Northwest Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street had a backbone and soul that spoke to the young entrepreneurs.
With a monumental vision and diehard work ethic, Ross and West — along with their partners at Barlington Group and Stilo Design — converted the dusty old space into a gorgeous new bed and breakfast that proudly opened its doors in July.
The Copper Door’s founders: circles and lines
You could say the seeds for The Copper Door were planted more than a decade ago, when Ross asked to celebrate her 16th birthday with dinner at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. Her mother obliged, setting Ross on a hospitality trajectory that led her to enroll in the prestigious culinary school, followed by front-of-house restaurant stints in Manhattan, Dubai, Kuwait and Miami Beach.
West, meanwhile, worked his way up in the kitchen side of restaurants. He won a host of awards while attending Palm Beach Gardens High School, putting the school’s culinary program on the map. From there it was off to Johnson & Wales University, then stints at Michael’s Genuine, Ghee Indian Kitchen and the world’s top-rated restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen.
Back in Miami, West and Ross got their feet wet for Copper Door by running a successful Airbnb property out of their home in Buena Vista. It prepared them to live onsite at Copper Door, managing the day-to-day aspects of a B&B from emergency maintenance fixes to daily breakfast menus.
“Jamila is circles, Akino is lines,” said Michelle Setty of Stilo Design, perfectly describing the partners. Ross is big-picture vision and bright ideas, and West is the workhorse motor that gets it done.
There is history at The Copper Door
The two have been at the property every day since their initial discovery. Barlington Group provided the space, Stilo Group’s Setty and Alexandra Muinos brought the technical know-how to coordinate all the moving parts, and Ross and West orchestrated the transformation into what it is today.
“Every time I’ve given someone a tour,” Ross said, “they experience the same emotions that we did the first time we saw it. That’s history talking.”
In Copper Door’s 22 rooms and suites, the partners have combined original and new elements that you have to see to believe. One guest room features complex floral-print wallpaper, while its neighbor’s walls sport crisp and clean geometric lines. Tile floors in gleaming bathrooms look original yet perfect, as though no one had ever walked on their woven patterns.
While transforming the space, there were moments of discovery that no one imagined, like when they opened a room full of furniture from the original Demetree Hotel. The team from Stilo helped determine what was rubble and what could be repurposed, including a dresser that became the hot beverage station in Copper Door’s new lobby. They also were able to restore the original front desk for use in the lobby.
Where other design firms suggested ripping up pristine terrazzo and turning the site into one more lifeless iteration of chrome and glass, Stilo helped uncover the mysteries of the old hotel and make them focal points. From the Demetree Hotel mosaic at the front entrance to a hidden room accessible only to guests with a skeleton key, the whole project was equal parts reverence and innovation.
Bed, breakfast — and more to come
Out-of-town visitors to The Copper Door will be feasting on food that will make locals want to rent a room just to partake in breakfast. West is whipping up lemon-thyme muffins with fresh lemon curd, and his porchetta breakfast sandwich might just be the best ham-and-egg iteration in town.
Between Ross and West, these two culinary talents have been exposed to so much in their work and travels, there is no room here for one-dimensional, forgettable dishes. An undeveloped space on the ground floor is slated to be a full-service cafe. And West plans to add a fine-dining component, called Il Sud, to the former bar located off the lobby.
Upstairs, in Room 11, the windows afford a clean view of the downtown Miami skyline and the conveniently located Brightline train station. It’s a whole new city compared to what it was when Jimmy Demetree ran this corner.
His building has been taken over by a new Miami, by a couple who represent the new class of creatives in this town. The Copper Door Bed & Breakfast has refreshed a historic neighborhood, and it radiates with hope.
The Copper Door Bed & Breakfast, 439 Northwest Fourth Avenue, Miami; 305-454-9065; copperdoorbnb.com.