From front desk clerk, Davonne Reaves became the youngest Black owner of a major hotel franchise

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 7, 2024 6:40 AM EDT
Davonne Reaves. Photo credit: Georgia State University

Davonne Reaves was unsure what she wanted to be when she grew up. At various points, she wanted to be an ice skater, an event planner, and a historian. It wasn’t until she worked in the hotel space during college that she began to think about becoming a hotel owner. Starting as a front-desk agent, Reaves became the youngest Black co-owner of a major hotel franchise. She owns three hotels and is the founder of Vesterr, the first Black-owned commercial real estate crowdfunding platform.

“I just wanted to always have the top position no matter what I was going to do. What’s the top position at a hotel? The owner,” Reaves explained her inspiration to own a hotel.

To rise to the top, she could not rest on her laurels.

While attending Georgia State University, Reaves volunteered at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta interviewing outgoing guests for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. She went to the hotel every day and the manager soon noticed her bright smile and authentic warmth. Reaves was eventually offered a job working the front desk at the 1,260-room Hyatt. She began to dream about owning a hotel and picked up the necessary knowledge and insight to realize it.

Reaves juggled working full-time at the Hyatt and working as a non-paid intern for a development consulting company on the side. The internship introduced her to the corporate side of hotel ownership and the commercial side of real estate, exposing her to hotel owners. After interning for about three months, Reaves decided to stay on the corporate side of the hotel industry. She started as an entry-level analyst, supporting the head consultant, ensuring clients had what they needed, working on feasibility studies, and assisting with projects. Two years later, she was offered an associate position at CHMWarnick, the nation’s largest third-party hotel asset management company. Reaves was the only African-American in the entire company and worked on asset portfolios upwards of $1 billion.

Despite the exciting opportunity, it was lonely at the top.

Seeking fulfillment and purpose, Reaves established her hotel consulting firm to advise clients on hotel development. Recognizing an opportunity to promote diversity in hotel ownership, she founded The Vonne Group in 2017. This consulting and investment firm offers services and online courses to guide individuals in becoming hotel owners. Reaves’ deep passion for hotel ownership and consulting ultimately led her to entrepreneurship.

Although Reaves was capable of owning a hotel for many years, she did not have the confidence to do it. She thought she was too young and a series of personal events and financial responsibilities prevented her from achieving her dream. In 2020, Reaves and two former college classmates negotiated an $8.3 million purchase of Home2 Suites by Hilton in El Reno, Oklahoma. The trio partnered with Nassau Investments to become the youngest-ever African American women co-owners of a major hotel property in the United States.

“After that first acquisition in 2020, I became one of the youngest Black women in the U.S. to co-own a hotel franchise. I do feel good about that and what I was able to accomplish before the age of 35. But I had said that I wanted to own a hotel before I was 30, and I was 33 when the first acquisition went through, so I’m actually late! And, I have already been dethroned by someone younger than me who now co-owns a hotel franchise. But I feel as though that means I have been able to pave the way for people and women who look like me,” Reaves said about the impact of her history-making feat.

In 2022, Reaves once again partnered with Nassau Investments to purchase a portfolio of two properties, worth $17.9 million. She currently owns three hotels, a 145-room Staybridge Suites in Fishers an 86-room Hampton Inn & Suites in Scottsburg, Indiana, and an 85-room Home2 Suites location in El Reno, Oklahoma. Reaves plans on buying a Hyatt Hotel in the future, a throwback to her early days at the front desk.