The Magnolia House Inn – A Premiere B&B That Happens To Be Black Owned

When Joyce and Lankford Blair opened Magnolia House Inn back in 2006, it was out of a yearning for representation.

The Blairs are African American and shared that more than thirty years ago as they traveled to bed and breakfast places in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina to name a few, “we didn’t see any innkeepers that looked like us,” Mrs. Blair said. So when they learned of a free two-year certification program in hospitality and hotel management, the couple quickly signed up. They juggled their then full-time day jobs in healthcare and took classes in the evenings. “We just made it work,” they said. Their sacrifice and commitment paid off. Seventeen years later, the bed and breakfast has been nationally recognized and is among lists of top Black-owned hotels and B&Bs.

There are times when we celebrate minority-owned businesses, and the Blairs certainly deserve recognition for their excellence in representing black entrepreneurs. But having recently stayed there, I can affirm that the warm service, the restaurant-style food, the luxurious comfort of the rooms is on par with any B&B. The Magnolia House Inn is not a superior Black-owned B&B, it is a superior B&B – full stop.

Within the Queen Ann Victorian home which is listed on the National Registry of Historic places are three elegantly decorated themed rooms. All rooms are equipped with amenities such as a full bath, Wi-Fi, tv, and even a small Bluetooth speaker. Two of the rooms offer queen sized beds, while the Ellington offers a king-sized bed and a bathtub fit for two. The first level holds a small wedding chapel, (the Blairs are both licensed to officiate). Guests are served a full breakfast, expertly prepared by Mrs. Blair and dutifully served by Mr. Blair. The couple say they can easily accommodate any dietary needs. “Anyone can come here on any kind of diet and it’ll be just fine,” Mrs. Blair said.

After a little more than a two-year search, the Blairs say The Magnolia House Inn had several selling points that sealed the deal for them. The property had curb appeal and was conveniently located within other historic sites including 155-year-old HBCU Hampton University. But they were also in agreement that they did not want to purchase an existing or former B&B. (the property was previously a restaurant and antique business.) “We wanted something where we could put our own stamp on it. We wanted to come up with our own brand.”

Making Magnolia House Inn a Blair thing became a matter of survival during the 2020 pandemic. With large scale gathering such as weddings prohibited, the Blairs came up with offering what they called “curbside elopement.”  Couples would drive up, receive their pronouncement as officially married all while observing recommended social distance protocols. “That’s what got us through COVID,” Mr. Blair recalled. “We did over 180 weddings in 2020.”  And when weather conditions allowed, the Blairs officiated outdoor ceremonies on the well-kept, expansive grounds.

“As a small business you have to know that anything can happen,” Mrs. Blair said. “And you have to be able to make adjustments. We were able to serve a lot of people who otherwise would not be served.” Once restrictions lifted, the Blairs report that couples later returned for a full ceremony.

Now in their seventies, the Blairs are frequently sought after by an upcoming generation of would-be innkeepers.  While their many years of wisdom and expertise is an invaluable resource to the younger entrepreneurs, they have notice  a contrast between the generations. “We’re good with the hospitality, Mrs. Blair said. “I can bake a batch of cookies with one hand tied behind my back. But we struggle with the tech and social media.  We noticed this generation has the opposite problem.”  She added that many are surprised at how much work goes into offering warm, yet impeccable service – the very quality that gives a B&B its distinction from the rest.

Despite their experience, the Blairs say they are continuous learners, gleaning from other B&B owners and more importantly “we listen to our guests.”  That strategy has clearly worked. They report having several repeat guests who are “truly like family now.”

I initially chose Magnolia House Inn because of its proximity, but it was that first phone call to the inn and Mrs. Blair’s southern charm that reeled me in. They are the consummate hosts whose style seems effortless.

“They say that’s a sign of a good innkeeper – when you make it look easy, “they said.

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Lisa Bryant
Lisa Bryant

Freelance Journalist

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