Monique Greenwood is some kind of Renaissance woman. The 54-year-old wife and mother is the doyenne of bed and breakfast, owning five Akwaaba properties on the East Coast—from the Poconos to Washington, D.C. Greenwood purchased the Brooklyn property first with her husband, Glenn Pogue, 19 years ago while she was still the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. The Pogues already owned several residential and commercial properties.
In 2001, Greenwood left the magazine to run the business full-time, and has been doing so ever since, adding properties along the way. With her planned retirement at 50 now four years in the past, Greenwood is working harder than ever. A fifth location, The Mansion at Noble Lane in Bethany, Pennsylvania, is housed in the former F. W. Woolworth mansion. We finally caught up with Greenwood to find out what’s next for the busy innkeeper.
EBONY: What made you want to go into the bed and breakfast industry?
Monique Greenwood: I became a bed and breakfast entrepreneur after being a bed and breakfast lover as a guest. The more I stayed at B&Bs, the more they tapped into my personal passions of entertaining, decorating and my financial belief that real estate is the best investment. When I saw all of those come together as an innkeeper, that started my journey. I didn’t intend to have as many as I have, which is a rarity in the industry. For me, it became a vision of retirement. I had a vision of having a home that I loved in each city that I loved for each season of the year.
EBONY: What was the inception of the Akwaaba Mansion brand? How did you get started?
MG: I fell in love with a freestanding mansion a couple of blocks from our home in Brooklyn. I thought it would make a great bed and breakfast, and that was our first property. We actually moved into the bed and breakfast on the third floor and operated four guest rooms. We still do a lot of business out of this location. This location is still the headquarters for the business and for our lives.
EBONY: A lot of people have dreams, but they don’t always become reality. How were you able to get your business off the ground?
MG: We purchased the first location in Brooklyn, which people thought was a haunted house and was going to be a money pit. No one other than us expected that a bed and breakfast would be successful. Nineteen years later, the community has completely revitalized itself and property values have quadrupled. That’s why I believe that real estate is such a great investment vehicle, and that’s how we’ve been able to finance each property: by using the equity in the property of the one before it.
EBONY: Still, this had to be an enormous undertaking in many ways for someone coming out of another career altogether.
MG: When you’re clear about what your end game is and what your goal is, you pair that with discipline. I’ve always been one to live beneath my means. I’m frugal. I have always been the kind of person who has six balls in the air. I credit my ability to organize, to identify people who will buy into my dream and motivate them into bringing it into reality. I do a to-do list every night so that I wake up the next day with clear intentions of what should happen. I’m purposeful, and I juggle a lot, and sometimes I drop a ball. I try not to beat myself up, but it happens.
EBONY: Where do you feel you got all of the necessary qualities to have a life as big as this one?
MG: My grandfather Benjamin Greenwood owned a corner grocery store in Washington, D.C. When the store owner across the street, a White man, petitioned the food wholesaler not to deliver his groceries in the same truck with my grandfather’s, my grandfather didn’t get angry. He got industrious and got his own truck. He only needed it once a week, so he spun it off into a moving company for the rest of the week. That business became more successful than the grocery store and became a Black Enterprise top business in the ’70s. The kind of dignity that he had and the fortitude he had was very inspiring to me.
EBONY: In our community, there is very much the Strong Black Woman syndrome of the Black woman who makes it all happen for everyone. Is this the case with you, or is this just who you are and what you do?
MG: Both are true. There are times when all engines are going and I’m thriving at that pace. Then there are times when your body gets tired and you need to slow down. I’ve been there, too. I do know that it’s important not to sacrifice yourself in the creating of whatever your dreams may be.
I’ve been at the point where I was envious of my guests because they were lounging by the pool or having tea by fireplace or having a glass of wine with their loved ones, and I’d feel like I was on the outside looking in on the life I wanted to have. I try to carve out time first thing in the morning so I can give myself to myself before I start giving myself away to everyone and everything. At the end of the day, we have to make sure we have some time and space to take care of ourselves.