The older I get, the more I believe it is possible to be homesick for something you’ve never known. More often than not, it’s an idealized version of a time in your life, a place, a moment. I had that feeling when I put my hand on the rough-hewn staircase of S, T, Eat and Stay. The hostel is the brainchild of Kai Avent-deLeon, owner and founder of Sincerely, Tommy, a Brooklyn boutique and concept store that’s become a community hub in its own right. Opening up the hostel has been a two-year-plus process, one that is still ongoing—which Kai acknowledges with grace. “The whole process has been a lot more intense since I opened up my first place.”
Family runs deep at S, T, Eat and Stay: Kai’s grandmother owns the building. Items from her mother’s and grandmother’s homes can now be found throughout the space, contributing to the one-of-a-kind homey feel—something you don’t often encounter in hostels. And Kai cites her grandmother, a master at entertaining folks in her home, as a major source of inspiration. “I really liked seeing someone take so much pride in their home and creating this experience for other people entering her home,” she says. A similar pride and well-crafted welcoming flow through the brownstone floors of the hostel.
The hostel was born out of Kai’s desire to create a space that celebrates the Bed-Stuy she knew growing up—one that both welcomes visitors to the neighborhood and reminds them of how Bed-Stuy has changed. The concept is a combination of her love and respect for her neighborhood and her own formative travel experiences. “When I was 16, I went to Paris on my own. I had no money and was staying in hostels, but during the last few days I was just really tired of staying in grungy places,” she tells me. “But there was a boutique hostel in the 9th [arrondissement], and it was really cute and curated and clean. You were still sharing bunk beds, but it was just a more pleasurable experience. It was just so nice.” She wanted to bring that same experience to people visiting Bed-Stuy, to raise the expectations of what a hostel can be. “I thought it would be nice to have a hostel like that here, where we have so many Airbnbers and tourists that come to the neighborhood. I thought it would be really cool for us to give visitors the full Bed-Stuy rundown.”
The items in the space are a curated hodgepodge of Kai’s history, interests, and tastes. The ceramics on the kitchen shelves are from Mexico, where Kai frequently finds design inspiration, while the cookware is from direct-to-consumer brand Material Kitchen. “I never buy things to match; I try to buy smaller objects from traveling so it has some sentimental value, and then I buy pieces that I am in love with individually,” Kai says when I ask her about her design philosophy in an attempt to fully steal it. “Get pieces that have value to you,” she advises. Kai made her design choices to set off the gorgeous bones of the building—the white bedding plays off the brick walls, and the warm woods throughout the space echo the wood of the staircase. The bathroom design was built around the vintage mirrors, made to look classic and timeless, while all the toiletries are from luxe brand Public Goods, adding to the upscale hostel experience.
The soon-to-open hostel is next door to its companion restaurant, Che, a mostly vegan restaurant by Tara Thomas, who has a reputation for her inventive and healthy pop-up dinners. The two connected over Instagram, where Tara’s cooking caught Kai’s eye because it reminded her of her mother’s vegan restaurant, Cafe Kai. After linking up with Tara, Kai decided to continue this legacy of black women honoring those they love by naming her restaurant after her son. “I want Che to see this and feel ownership, to know his power. To have another example of a black person doing it for themselves.”
And while the space is beautiful and truly something special, the road to opening hasn’t been easy. Both Kai and Tara said they learned patience and prioritizing self-care from the experience. “What can I do today that’s good enough?” Tara says, sharing that a big lesson from the project has been “being aware of what you are capable of that day.” And while it sounds simple and perhaps predictable, I think what I picked up on when I stepped into Eat and Stay was that I was standing at the center of a true labor of love. “Bed-Stuy has always had that soul, that culture, and that’s why I chose to open up a business here. It’s why I share the narrative of the three generations.” Kai says. It’s the meeting of intention and execution, old and new, reverence and renovation that makes S, T, Eat and Stay the rare place that can open its doors and truly say, “Welcome home.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest