Monique Greenwood of Akwaaba Mansion and Cafe
As editor of Essence
magazine, founder of the nation's largest literary society for African-American
women and an author in her own right, Monique Greenwood could be
the poster girl for the "new" Harlem Renascence. Except that
she doesn't live in Harlem.
Manhattan's loss is
luckily Brooklyn's gain: Greenwood, her husband, Glen Pogue, and their
7-year-old daughter live in Stuyvesant Heights. Not only do they call
this section of Bedford-Stuyvesant home, but the two own and operate both
the Akwaaba Mansion Bed and Breakfast and the Akwaaba Café.
Akwaaba means "welcome" in a language spoken in Ghana, and for six years now Greenwood and Pogue have been welcoming visitors from around the world to the18-room Victorian mansion they converted into a gracious B&B. Likewise, their Akwaaba Café has become a popular dining spot for their neighbors and New Yorkers "in the know."
Bed-Stuy may seem an unlikely spot for a B&B with a consistent 90% occupancy rate and a restaurant every bit as urbane and chic as its Smith Street peers. But Greenwood brings a "can-do" passion to the rewarding task of maximizing assets others have overlooked. Of the philosophy that guides her, she says: "I learned very early on not to limit myself because of others' limited imagination and I always surrounded myself with people who believed in me as much as I believe in a higher power," Greenwood says.
The physical beauty of Stuyvesant Heights comes as a surprise to anyone with unfavorable preconceptions about Bedford-Stuyvesant. Historic homes, many with wide green laws, share the streets with tidy brownstones and proud, stately churches. Greenwood first saw the unoccupied, 1860 mansion, which would become her B&B, in 1993. She started what would be a two-year dialogue with the owners and began planning for her inn.
"I studied every inch of that house, collected furniture and decided what would go into the spaces," Greenwood says. "I had already stayed in at least 10 different inns down at Cape May, New Jersey - the capital of B&Bs. On each trip I there I kept a journal of everything I loved and hated."
The décor of both the inn and the café reflect her interest in African and African-American history and culture, as well as a sharp eye for stylish, contemporary design. Two angular African masks watch o
ver the Café's large dining room from their vantage points high on the earth-tone walls. Lamps crafted from perforated metal are suspended from a tin plate ceiling, while banquet backs hang from iron curtain rods.
The Akwaaba Café is one of the very few restaurants in a neighborhood of mostly mom-and-pop storefront cafes and fast-food spots. This may explain why Akwaaba's Chef Mohammed tends to under-spice his dishes: perhaps over-eager to emphasize a sophisticated restraint in cooking as compared with the neighborhood's otherwise rudimentary dining options. The menu at Akwaaba is a mix of traditional southern and Caribbean choices, such as Fried Chicken and Cajun Blackened Snapper, as well as core dining favorites such as Rosemary-Rubbed Grilled Sirloin and Grilled Atlantic Salmon.
Helping develop the neighborhood is of great importance to Greenwood and Pogue. She serves on several boards, including those of the New York Urban League, the Central Brooklyn Partnership and the Bridge Street Development Corp. The Akwaaba Mansion and Café not only provide jobs to people in Stuyvesant Heights, but also raises the benchmark as to the level and quality of service local establishments can offer. The Café has become a favorite site for birthday parties, music and poetry performances, and Sundays are always packed after church services for their excellent brunch.
Opening soon in a new property the couple acquired last year is the Mirrors Cafe Lounge - a casual spot for eating and socializing. Between juggling her duties as an editor, innkeeper and restaurant proprietor, Greenwood also serves as president of the Go On Girl! Book Club, a literary society for African American women who read and encourage the writings of authors from the African Diaspora. Coming next year, William Morrow will publish her book, Having What Matters, a success guide for Black women.
Certainly Greenwood and Pogue have found success with the Akwaaba Mansion and Café.
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