Best known for his role as David on the OWN hit television series Greenleaf, Julian Brittano has always had his hand in business. The actor and entrepreneur has owned a barbershop, a restaurant, and worked in many facets of business. However, when the chance to enter the hospitality and tourism industry, Brittano couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Brittano and his wife, Karie, are now the new owners of the Rook At South Boston, a boutique hotel brand that will cater to creatives and travelers visiting the South Boston, VA area. The couple started the process in 2019 and only live 35 minutes away from the hotel. Brittano had watched the slow but steady development of the South Boston area and saw extreme value in investing in the up-and-coming community.
“I always saw the value in the hotel industry, I just didn’t know how to go about doing it but I knew that at some point I would,” Brittano said. “Everything was just timing.”
The hotel is the Brittano’s first venture in the travel industry but they are no strangers to entrepreneurship. The pair have plans to bring new vitality to the industry with amenities and features that cater to a diverse demographic. Some of the planned amenities include a rooftop bar, a convention space, and they are entertaining the idea of a water feature. Additionally, the Rook At South Boston will feature a branding studio business center that caters to creatives and those seeking to leave a digital footprint.
“Most hotels have a business center which allows you to go in and it has two or three computers and a printer,” he said. “But we’re going to take our business center and ramp it up so that way it accommodates the creative industry as well as the digital age. So we’re going to have some other features in there that kind of speak to that lane of creatives.”
Beyond fascinating amenities and features, the hotel will have top-notch customer service, and welcoming staff, and provide a unique experience that leaves guests feeling appreciated and valued. Brittano and his wife plan to expand the hotel brand beyond South Boston and provide different experiences in many locations.
“Being a soft brand hotel, we have the option of creating unique and custom experiences for all our future and additional hotels as well,” he said. “So that’s the beautiful thing about that. It’ll have our stamp and footprint on it but it’ll change from city to city.”
The Brittano’s plan is to be a vital piece of South Boston culture and history as they partner with major and community partners to bring the hotel’s vision to life. As renovations begin, they intend to give back to the community by providing jobs and opportunities within the travel industry for aspiring hospitality professionals and bringing more tourism to the city.
“It just gives us a unique edge to have our own facilities and be able to help turn around a community that is now looking at our project as an anchor for the community and the city,” he said. “It just made sense.”
As a successful businessman and entertainer, Brittano says the two occupations go hand-in-hand. He has leveraged his relationships established over time to create opportunities for himself and others in a plethora of spaces. Brittano says his entire acting career has been built on leverage relationships and opportunities and has carried that over to his hospitality endeavors.
“You leverage and use your platform to create opportunities that others can take advantage of and use of service in the community,” he said.
Renovations on the property will take about two years and the Brittano’s anticipate opening their doors to travelers in June 2024. Karie is spearheading renovations and Brittano says working with his wife on the project is the best part of hotel ownership.
“It’s like being back in high school and your science partner is your crush,” he said. “It’s like having a lab partner and you’ve got a crush on them. But instead of a crush, it’s my wife. So it’s that type of feeling; we get to get the work done, do a great job, and I get to do it with the person I’m in love with.”
As a Black, celebrity hotel owner, Brittano is a rarity in the industry with only one percent of hotel owners being African-American. With the purchase of the Rook At South Boston, Brittano hopes more people of color will enter the hotel industry as owners and continue to set new trends that influence the culture.
“We know that as Black Americans we lead a lot of times with trends but not just trends but culture and a lifestyle and hospitality and tourism that’s lifestyle all day,” he said. “So we should have more representation in being able to create a great experience that people can take back home to where they’re from.”