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MBJ SHOWCASE: Old Capitol Inn and Mende Alford

ALAN TURNER

ALAN TURNER

When you hear the term “boutique hotel”, you might tend to associate the concept with a quaint inn located in, say, Boston, or Manhattan, or perhaps in the south of France. However, Jackson is home to its own boutique hotel at the Old Capitol Inn, on State Street.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few nights at the Old Capitol Inn and enjoy the hospitality of Mende Alford and her staff. My accommodations were superb and as is true of such inns, every room is individually decorated, with its own distinct feel and charm. It’s a very different experience from the typical cookie-cutter hotel/motel experience.

I spent some time talking with Mende about the Old Capitol and how it came into being, and hers is a story of dedication, hard work, and success that any woman business owner can take to heart.

“I was born in Jackson, and except for college at Ole Miss and a period of time when I lived and worked in Boston, Jackson has always been home,” she said. Today, she lives in northeast Jackson with her 3 girls, ages 11, 10, and 7. “I’m blessed to have 3 great kids”, she said.

MENDE ALFORD

MENDE ALFORD

So how did the Old Capitol Inn come into being?

“I suppose the entrepreneurial bug bit me when I was still living in Boston,” she said. “I was really interested in old buildings, and loved the bed-and-breakfast concept. So, with my father’s help, I came back to Jackson and we created the Old Capitol Inn.”

For a number of years, the Old Capitol Inn was operated as a bed-and-breakfast establishment, but in recent years, has evolved to a full-scale ‘boutique hotel’ with more facilities and services to offer. Today, the inn has 24 rooms, each of which is unique. With names to match. There is, for instance, a Eudora Welty room and, yes, an Elvis room.

The inn continues to serve guests a great breakfast each morning, but the hotel is also open to the public for lunch from 11-2 on weekdays. There’s a rooftop bar that is open seasonally, providing a great place to relax after a hectic day. And Mende says that she can now accommodate meetings, banquets, weddings, and events for as many as 400 attendees.

We at the Mississippi Business Journal are well-acquainted with her meeting facilities, having held a number of our events there, including Mississippi’s Top CEO’s, 50 Leading Businesswomen, and a number of others. One thing that impresses about the establishment is the great food.

“It’s not your typical meeting food,” a recent honoree told us. “This food is the best I’ve had at any event I’ve ever attended.”

Mende attributes that to a great chef, Bruce Cain, and his staff.

“Chef Bruce takes pride in what he does. And it’s great people are what make a great hotel,” she said. “Most of my people have been with me for over 10 years, and we think of ourselves as more of a family than a collection of employees.”

Through the years, the staff size has grown to approximately 50, making the Old Capitol Inn an important employer in downtown Jackson.

I asked Mende how she feels about Jackson and its future.

“I think there’s a kind of renaissance going on right now,” she suggested. You see what’s going on around Highland Village and Eastover, and some of the changes in downtown are really good.”

Among other guests, Mende hosts many legislators during legislative sessions, and most return again and again. That is, of course, if they get re-elected.

I asked Mende what she considers the keys to success.

“Well, you certainly must be prepared to adapt and change, because nothing stands still these days,” she said. “But it’s still about giving your clients and customers what they need and want.”

Her advice for young entrepreneurs?

“Stay focused, and banish the word “no” from your vocabulary,” she said. “When I started out in this business, I really didn’t know much about hospitality. But I learned from the right people, and I refused to give up on my dream.”

What does she do for fun?

“Why, I run the Old Capitol Inn,” she said. “I don’t know many things that are more fun than that!”

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

 

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