African American Friends Turned Family Buy An Antebellum Guesthouse – Best Mississippi Community Newspaper

NACHES – God works in mysterious ways.

That’s certainly the case in the friends-turned-family relationship between Mike and Tiffany Clinton of Los Angeles and Joseph C. Smith of Natchez.

On March 29, the three became business partners and owners of The Guest House in Natchez.

“I remember riding here as a kid and imagining what life was like for those who lived here,” Smith said. “Eola and The Guest House are kind of like staples here in Natchez. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at least passed by here and been intrigued by The Guest House. This is like a full circle moment, being able to get to a place where we can have the mansion and being able to interpret the history of the mansion in a unique way because I don’t think there was a mansion of that size before the war that was owned by African Americans.”

It also provides a unique opportunity to interpret the history of the house from the perspective of the men and women who built, managed and maintained it, Smith said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Natchez and America, right? I think more and more people who come to Natchez have this desire to hear the full history. In fact, the people who stay here at The Guest House want to know what about the blacks? The slaves who built it We are delighted to be able to add the extensive history of Natchez and The Guest House to our story.

But that is not the primary goal of the Clintons and Smiths. Their primary goal for The Guest House, along with running a successful business, is to inspire the next generation of every race or ethnicity about the possibilities of what they can become.

God’s plan all the time

Joseph Smith was an assistant pastor at one of the fastest growing churches in Washington, D.C., in 2011 when Mike and Tiffany Clinton were planning their wedding in Cabo, Mexico.

“The church pastor happened to be Mike’s brother, who was over-dedicated to the big engagement wedding and I was pushing it hard,” Smith said.

“But now we know why God did this, right,” said Mrs. Clinton. “When we got married, there were a lot of people, but it was just the three of us. We used to make jokes and smile and honestly.. God intended to marry us and for this. Now we know why we are here.”

The three and their families are now fast friends, vacationing and vacationing together since that fateful meeting in Mexico.

Clinton “The Other”

Mike Clinton is originally from Baltimore. Mrs. Clinton “is like Los Angeles as it comes.”

“My wife is from L.A. and she recruited me to move there. Since she’s a lawyer, we didn’t want her to take a different bar and L.A. is an easy sale in terms of weather. Once I left Baltimore at 18, I never looked back,” he said.

Clinton earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University and graduated from Vanderbilt Business School.

“I started out as a real estate investment banker working for a small company outside of Philadelphia,” he said. “And what actually prompted us to move was her brother had a car accident and we left Philadelphia in this hectic situation. Two or three months later – we weren’t married at the time – we were still in Los Angeles supporting her family and I knew I could make her work remotely and we just stayed. And we started our lives together.”

In 2017, Clinton switched from finance to business development.

“I participated in my first development in 2017, and we now have 630 housing units across the country,” Clinton said. The couple also operates an event property in Palm Springs.

“This was kind of our first step into hospitality. Our experience with it made it an easy transition to something like this, not that we would have done it without Joseph. You really need a local connection to make this business work.”

Mrs. Clinton, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, and left Los Angeles to attend Michigan Law School.

“After law school, I ended up in Los Angeles. I’ve been practicing law for 14 years,” she said. “I’m into corporate transaction law. I do everything from pre-acquisition due diligence to takeover, and if it’s a merger, I handle the entire establishment of the operation, running the business from top to bottom, and the final sale if that happens.”

The perfect opportunity

Smith offered the idea of ​​coming to Natchez to the Clintons.

“I told him we needed something to build on, something to anchor us here, and that became the perfect asset. It’s big enough and makes a big splash, but it’s still a boutique – 16 rooms and a small restaurant – and it’s a process we can move around. Not a lot of staff we’re going to push Joseph very much.

“Tiffany already runs much, much bigger organizations than this. So, I had a lot of faith in our team. Joseph has in his background managing multimillion-dollar profit and loss, so we’re prepared,” Clinton said.

“We were already working on something else at the time and we happened to see the listing and it was obvious online. He didn’t say it was a ‘guest house.’” Smith said. “Mike is like a venture capitalist. He’s always venturing into great things. We started looking to see what we could find about Natchez and he saw this listing for a bed and breakfast that had a hotel and restaurant but there was no name on it.”

They responded to the listing, seeking more information, but did not receive a response.

“We sent an email and it was like the email had been in a black hole for about two months. And then, finally, Sean got to us again. Mike called me and told me it was The Guest House and asked if I had ever heard of it.” Dude, have you heard of it before? It is a guest house. We need to buy this like now! Smith said.

Imagine the possibilities

During a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles a few years after their marriage, Clinton came to Hearst Castle and the two decided to stop and see her.

It was built by billionaire Hearst newspaper and is a huge castle. He used his fortune to buy most of the coast. “Harry Potter was filmed there,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We watched the Imax there about the Hearst Empire and I remember Mike saying he wished he had the opportunity to see something like Hearst Castle when he was young because his idea of ​​what he could dream of in his life was a far more expansive . It would raise the bar for every dream he had. “When I have a child, I want them to see Hearst Castle,” he said.

The Clintons are parents to two children – Styles, 5, and Brilliant, 2. On a Monday last week, Styles was sitting quietly at his computer doing homework while Brilliant fell asleep in her mother’s arms.

“Part of what we do is aimed at motivating kids. Because kids can’t become what they don’t see, and all they see are housekeeping jobs or blue collar jobs, that’s the direction they’re going,” Clinton said.

“We have shots of kids playing in the lanes. I thought, Can you imagine? The African American kids who run here are the heirs. It was so beautiful, incredible. All they’ll know on 5 and 2 is Natchez and The Guest House and they’ll become who they are, “He said. “I am happy to add this to their heritage and the legacy of the city. I am excited to see where it will go.”

The effect of their purchase of this antebellum mansion on the old Black Nazis was also influential.

“I was really surprised by the effect our purchase of The Guest House had on the elderly here in Natchez. The joy and the tears and the kind of motivation and inspiration they got, just from the feedback they gave us, totally blew us away. Some of our employees were simply in tears at the idea that African Americans are “That’s the part where I’m back and I’m gushing to my wife about it,” Clinton said. “This was something to cry to us, and the effect it had on people.”

Smith founded BlackNatchez.org, which hopes to help people understand the full story of Natchez.

“This is not about black natchez or white natchez. This is all versus racism. This is everybody versus inequality. All versus injustice,” Smith said. “We want to inspire the next generation of natchez of every race and every race.

“And we think it’s important for the people who were at the bottom of the barrel to see the people who were once where they were, to be able to get up and do things like that to affect society and the state.”

It’s also something important for other nachises.

After the acquisition was completed, Mimi Miller of Historic Natchez wrote to Smith, “This acquisition of The Guest House is a huge deal for us. For nearly 50 years we have dreamed of seeing black ownership in historic downtown properties, commercial and historic mansions. I see That this represents a huge step forward for the black community towards recognizing that the historic buildings in the city belong to them too.”

Natchez living room

Built in the 1840s, the mansion served as a private home until about 1900 when it was purchased by Natchez Elks Lodge, which has extensively renovated and added a second floor to the house. It also served as the headquarters of the pilgrimage at one time. Later, it became part of the Eola Hotel before it was purchased by Sean and Rachel Casey in December 2017, who sold it to Clintons and Smith.

“We were both surprised by the grandeur of this house,” said Mrs. Clinton. “We are both from the city, so being in a small town and the warmth of Natchez and the warmth of the Natchez people is amazing. It really is such an attractive and inviting city. I am so amazed at how special Natchez is. He (my husband) was here a month ago and came home and he kept telling me, ‘I can’t stand it. Waiting for you to go. I can’t wait for you to go. The kids love it.”

“We technically bought it before I was here,” Clinton said. “That’s how much I trust Joseph.”

Smith said that when celebrating 40 days of ownership, the process at The Guest House is going full steam ahead. It is fully booked on weekends for the foreseeable future. He plans to improve the restaurant’s menu, which features Mediterranean and Creole cuisine, as well as a full Southern breakfast each morning.

“We continue to serve chicken shawarma, which was a favorite, and we’ve improved on the shrimp and grits.

The message for the new owners is simple and attractive.

“We want to be Natchez’s sitting room. The guest house is your home. Come get a Mint Julep, have a glass of wine and watch the sunset from the upstairs balcony. Chat with friends. People can come to the patio too. It’s beautiful at night. And it’s a place Families come in. Thanks to Mrs. Clinton, we have a kids’ menu, a lunch menu at lunch prices. I think people will be very happy when they come.”

The guest house opens up to the small bar off the first floor balcony, where those who want to stop and have a drink can quickly enter and do so.

“We root for everyone in Natchez. Our success is the city’s success,” Clinton said. “We bring people from big cities across the country to Natchez, and if they want to see the city grow and thrive and be more diverse, healthier and happier, we love being Supportive by coming in person or just offering support via social media or sending positive feedback, ideas and good intentions. We will take it all.

“We’re committed to the city, we’re committed to the people. We’re here to be a catalyst. I’m going to bring my family, friends and kids here and I want to show the love to the locals and hopefully it’s mutual.”

“I’m excited. I hope people will give us a chance and know we haven’t taken anything here. We just want to promote what’s out here and provide good information, good vibes and lots of smiles,” Ms. Clinton said. “Can’t wait to see Christmas at The Guest House.” .I love Christmas!”

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