For more than four years, Homage Hospitality founder Damon Lawrence has been building upon his initial vision: paying tribute to Black culture. But this year, having just sold the Moor, a four-room concept that opened in New Orleans in 2018, and falling out of contract for a 92-key property in Oakland at the onset of COVID-19, Lawrence found himself in an interesting position without an operating hotel. “I told the entire team, ‘let’s just wait and see what happens,’” the Howard University grad says. “We have the ultimate flexibility to just focus on new opportunities.” Next came George Floyd’s killing and subsequent protests, which “really opened the door for Homage to mean more than ever,” says Lawrence. “I recall needing to get people up to speed to understand what the brand meant and represented, and now we don’t have to do that. People are starting to get it.” With that in mind, the entrepreneur details some of his next moves and evolving approach.
We’re working on three projects (Napa, California; a larger property in New Orleans; and a city that I’m very fond of, Baltimore) and looking at launching early summer 2021, hopefully around Juneteenth. I’m really excited about each one. With the exception of New Orleans, both of those cities are kind of off the beaten path. Napa’s not a market you would expect a Homage property to automatically fit into, but the more research we did, the more we realized it’s perfect because, for so long, it hasn’t been a very inclusive region.
On lessons learned in 2020
I was reminded that every single thing that didn’t happen my way was actually to my benefit. There are very few in our business that have the opportunity to still be creative in this time, to still have a forward-thinking mindset. I found that to be a blessing and a true gift that right now, with everything kind of falling apart, I have the ability to think with the future solely in mind and what freedom exists with that. We’re in an exciting time; I wouldn’t change anything. I would have said something totally different seven months ago.
On the current state of the industry
This has accelerated things that were already in the works. A lot of bigger convention hotels are going to struggle for a while and what is truly going to win is boutique. The smaller key count is going to be where people feel the most comfortable. If you haven’t been traveling and you’re looking to get away, you’re looking for experience above everything else, and you’re willing to pay for it. It fits right into what Homage stands for and what we’re all about.
This article originally appeared in HD’s November 2020 issue.