JACKSON — When most people think of B&Bs, they visualize an inn tucked away in a quiet, old neighborhood or out in the country, basking in rural solitude.
“Quaint” is often used to describe them.
The Old Capitol Inn certainly deserves to be called quaint, but for a different reason than most B&Bs. Located in the heart of downtown Jackson, bustling State Street is the inn’s front yard. Construction activity, sirens, honking vehicles — welcome to the city.
Yet once the door shuts, the Old Capitol Inn quickly reveals itself as a true bed and breakfast. Quiet and charming, muted light plays on the inn’s walls, illuminating its period furnishings and creative interior design scheme. Jackhammers are replaced by the sound of gently splashing water from the inn’s fountains. In the midst of the din and confusion, Old Capitol Inn is like an oasis.
While being a bed and breakfast located in a metropolitan area might seem a liability, Mende Malouf Alford, who manages the family-owned lodging, and her staff have found it to be a huge asset. While large weddings and other special events make up an important part of Old Capitol Inn’s revenue, it’s business travelers that have found the lodging a true home-away-from-home.
“About 90% of our business is corporate,” she said. “We offer a great alternative for the business traveler. We’re located in downtown. We have meeting space. We have fine food — and catering. We have high-speed Internet connectivity. We have everything a business traveler wants and needs.”
Externally, the Old Capitol Inn looks much older than it actually is. Red brick with a welcoming canopy and black wrought iron window trimmings and fencing, the facility was built in 1952 as a Y.W.C.A. However, the building was subsequently abandoned.
Alford said the property stood empty for nearly five years. Her father, Greenwood native and Jackson attorney Mike Malouf, drove by the place often and fell for its simple yet stately appearance.
“My father called me and told me he was looking to buy the old building and convert it into a bed and breakfast,” said Alford, who was living in Boston at the time after earning a degree from the University of Mississippi. “I said, ‘Hey, can I work there?’”
The Maloufs bought the building in 1995 and spent more than a year on renovations. Old Capitol Inn opened its doors in Nov. 1996.
The most unique aspect of Old Capitol Inn has to be its interior design scheme. The bed and breakfast contains 23 suites and a guest room.
“We wanted this to be a designer showcase property,” Alford said. “We brought in designers from all over the state and assigned them one room. Each room has a Mississippi theme.”
The rooms include Leflore County, Mynelle Gardens, Beauvoir, Walter Anderson, “Elvis Sleeps” and “Faulkner’s Flat.” A sampling of the designers are Clay Petit of 1919 Antiques in Itta Bena, Barbara Thompson and Richard Prewitt of Batte Furniture and Interiors in Jackson, Cyndi Gore of Cyndi Gore Designs in Tupelo, Dinah Lazor and Patricia Miller of Designed Displays Inc. in Vicksburg and Barbara Stancil of Something Old, Something New in Ridgeland.
Originally, rooms were about all the Maloufs planned to offer. But, due to patrons’ demands, the inn began to evolve and grow.
“At first we intended to run just a bed and breakfast, but then some of our guests started asking if we catered. So, we added food and beverages. Now, we’re a full-service establishment.”
The inn’s menu includes such fare as Orleans Shrimp Salad Remoulade, Grilled Mississippi Tilapia, Down in Dixie Crab Cakes and similar Southern-tinged dishes.
Largely through word-of-mouth advertising alone, the bed and breakfast has grown. Starting with only three employees, there are now 20 on the payroll, serving lodgers from all over the U.S. and beyond, including some celebrities.
“Newt Gingrich stayed with us once,” Alford said. “And the rap group Run DMC stayed here when they were doing a concert at Jackson State.” Then she added with a smile, “There were some of the nicest young men I’ve ever met.”
Now that Old Capitol Inn is full-service, Alford said she and her staff would concentrate less on adding services and more on adding to the quality of services already offered.
“My goal is 100% occupancy,” Alford said. “All of our expectations have been surpassed, and every year it gets a little better. We have a small staff offering personal service. If someone has stayed here before, chances are I know them by their first name, which is important to people. We want to be known as the accommodation that never says ‘no.’ We want the Old Capitol Inn booming 24 hours a day.”
The inn is online at www.oldcapitolinn.com.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.