True hospitality is about people. A quick Google search describes it as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers, but in reality, it’s much, much more than that. It’s going the extra mile, always wearing a smile and when in doubt, the customer is always right. It’s a passion, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a work of art. For General Manager Nina Powers of L’Habitation Guest House at 408 Eaton St. in the heart of Key West’s infamous Old Town, it is all those things. Nina truly loves what she does, and that is what makes her the highly sought-after industry professional that she is. That and impressive resume of skills and experience along with an undeniable touch of Southern charm.
Nina grew up in Georgia and Indiana, eventually settling in Waynesboro, Ga., where she would spend the next 25 years raising a family and working in the non-profit sector as the director for the chamber of commerce. Her heart has always been in helping people and creating a genuine bond with them. It’s one of the reasons she fits so perfectly into her new job.
“I wanted my children to have the roots I never had,” she says of her choice to move to the small town of Waynesboro wedged deeply into the center of the Bible Belt, “and the South always felt like home to me.”
When I think of the South, my mind immediately goes to the details, like the comforting long drawl of an accent much like Nina’s or freshly squeezed ice-cold lemonade on a hot day. It’s no surprise to me that this is exactly how Nina describes running a guesthouse; by paying attention to the details. After spending 13 years at the Southernmost House and three years learning from Alexander’s Guesthouse’s long-term general manager Laura Smith, Nina was finally given the opportunity this past summer to put her own touches on a property that needed a discerning eye of improvement. In the three months that she has been at L’Habitation Guest House, she has updated the mattresses and linens, modernized the decor, added local amenities such as Key West Aloe and 24/7 Cuban Coffee Queen coffee service, and lengthened the complimentary breakfast hours simply because that is what her guests told her they wanted. She also added cereal, granola, and breakfast bars to the daily delivery of Croissants de France that they had already been offering and she continues to have an open ear for suggestions.
From the outside, L’Habitation looks like a quaint and cozy Conch house with a welcoming front porch. On the inside, it reflects the love that Nina has for people. Although her inspiration might come from her former boss whom she credits for teaching her how to “pace herself,” her current vision is all her own.
“Managing a guesthouse allows me to use all the skills that I’ve learned in a lifetime,” she says, “and I have a heart for service.”
Her former boss, Laura Smith, nominated Nina for the position of general manager to Charles Deyo of Cendym Corp. Deyo had recently acquired the property and Smith thought that Nina was the perfect person for it, even though she would be losing one of her best employees.
Not only that, but Nina also had plans to retire by next February.
“She knew if I retired I wouldn’t be happy” Nina smiles.
The question remaining then is how did she get to be where she is today? The answer is that it wasn’t easy, especially when Nina found herself as an empty nester who was about to retire, asking herself well what do I do now? She even admits that she made some mistakes along the way. Yet she would have never been able to discover that another chapter of her life was waiting to be written in Key West if she didn’t take that step into the unknown by pulling up her britches and selling everything she had to make the move down to an island she knew very well already, thanks to a brother who had already been living here for 20 odd years. Not only that, but her son was living here as well and her daughter moved down not long after.
“It means so much to me that they wanted me to come here,” she says. “I’m so fortunate to be near them at a time in my life when I can enjoy them and they can enjoy me.”
For Nina, family is everything. When she talks about watching football and barbecuing, she mentions people who might not be related by blood, but who have become an important part of her life.
“I love being surrounded by people that have such a great spirit,” she continues, when talking about the friends she has made. She’s also boldly optimistic. “Highway 1 is the beginning or the end. It’s a great place to end up and a great place to begin again.”
It’s also a great place to spend a couple nights, perhaps in a place that is run by someone with a heart for hospitality. Step into L’Habitation Guest House and Nina will make sure you are treated like you are a part of her family. ¦