About two years ago, the Mérida community watched on social media as a couple from Arizona built a new bed-and-breakfast from the ground up. We saw a modern Ochenta y Dos rise from a vacant parcel on quiet Calle 82 — breaking the mold in both style and location. Since then, Dave Omer Dodge and Patrick Alan Greenwood have been high-profile members of the community, opening up their lavish quarters to charity events and festive celebrations while promoting the Peninsula’s treasures to the uninitiated.
On the advent of Ochenta y Dos’ first year-and-a-half in Mérida, we spoke to Dave about what led him and his husband here, and what it takes to pull off such a grand project.
How did you and Patrick come to learn about Merida, and how difficult was it to uproot from Arizona and move to Yucatán?
Patrick and I have been thinking about retiring early and living out of the country for a few years. Having been almost around the world collectively — living in New England, Portugal and the Southwest — we started to travel to areas of interest. We visited Costa Rica, Portugal, Bermuda and Spain. Nothing hit us as an easy or viable move.
Part of my career path took me to travel journalism and professional guiding and escorting around the globe, yet ironically, I never even thought of Mexico as a destination. I was on tour in the Yucatán in the late ’90s and decided to bring Patrick down for Christmas one year. After about a day we both decided this was the place and we needed to figure it out to make it work for us.
We started our research and for one year we stayed in touch with a local real estate agent and builder extraordinaire (Grant Beare of Yucatan Custom Home Builders) via Facebook and email. Who knew that down the road we would have the house that Facebook built? The research was a challenge for me and I got into it like a writer would, with an open point of view, and a focus on the details. There were many mixed messages and sorting through them was fun, actually.
After another visit the following Christmas, we stayed three weeks and decided a Bed & Breakfast was in the future for us. Patrick had one for 23 years in New Hampshire and for the past four years, our home in Phoenix was an Airbnb property, and we loved it! We began our search for a five- or six-bedroom home in a condition we could renovate and make our own, but after seeing these homes and the condition they were in, we decided to make an offer on the worst looking house on the street!
Once this decision was made, everything started to fall into place. Our visit to the Mexican Consulate was easy-breezy, resident status in 20 minutes, the container move was sorted and we were on our way.
On LinkedIn, you say that you combined your past experiences into one effort: Building and running Ochenta y Dos. What about marketing, publishing and public relations prepared you for hospitality?
We are both very entrepreneurial and in our past lives we had so many forms of small businesses, our combined experiences help create our brand of Ochenta y Dos (“an urban bed and breakfast”). My background of luxury retail (Jordan’s, Filene’s, Neiman’s and Saks) gave me a great base for client expectations and customer service, something you cannot have enough of in this business. I am also a ITMI Certified tour director and have had the pleasure of working in many countries leading tours. The past seven years before arriving to Mérida, I had my own marketing, public relations, event and fundraising company: Ideation Nation. My focus was only on nonprofits and cause marketing, building alliances with large business. During the same period, I became a travel writer, traveling extensively and contributing to five magazines in the Southwest. I was busy. Mérida was going to be easy!
Patrick worked in manufacturing, sales and marketing and his last gig was in Phoenix in an aerospace firm. Combine that with his past experience of a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire, and we figured we could not lose.
Ochenta y Dos isn’t a remodel of a historic mansion, you built it from the ground up. So you had a lot of design decisions to make. What were your influences? And what priorities did you give the builder?
We were so happy when the historic committee allowed us to tear the building down. It had been vacant 78 years and was crumbling to the touch. Remember, it was the worst house on the street, so about 200 dump-truck loads later we had a vacant lot in Centro and a clean palette to create our home and our business. Our builder and now friend really helped guide us along the way of construction. We communicated only through Facebook Messenger, daily; most of the time, videos, photos, texts and conference calls got the job done. The design was first done by me on a napkin at Hennessy’s, I think, keeping the facade almost the same, but not! I created a space for guests, and for us to live. We decided not to have any Yucatecan influence in the design and we both hate concrete with a passion. We wanted the space to be modern, but not contemporary, lots of light and windows, nothing like some of the homes we saw. We knew we had a budget and our taste in furnishings would have to reflect that, so the hunt began in Arizona and we were very resourceful in our decor and fixtures. Today, the final product is a reflection of our travels, our homes and our lives, combining all the stuff we like, to make a modern and upscale respite from historic homes and hotels in the Centro — which are beautiful, but they’re just not us!
Congratulations on your consistent 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. Guests can be finicky. What are you doing to win them over?
We have a simple method to our hospitality. We treat guests the way we wished we were consistently treated. Every guest gets a tour of the property, a welcome letter and a sincere thank you for choosing our property. We combine humor, information and a level of expectation right up front. Guests like that; they get it! Our opening line is, “Welcome to Ochenta y Dos, this is our home and it happens to be our business!”
Every day we offer a full hot breakfast and never the same thing twice. We have had guests who stayed for three weeks and we never served the same thing in the morning. After week two it’s a challenge, a good one. Every night we have our Happy Hour on the Patio Bar or the Roof Top Deck. Patrick does a great job creating snacks and appetizers to complement the adult beverage we serve. Our guests sit and talk, sharing ideas and cultures from around the world, about 60 percent of the time they never go to dinner. That is always a great sign that we are doing things right, the way we envisioned it. As a tour director, it is in my blood, so I have created a number of private adventures offered only to our guests that go throughout the Yucatán. My knowledge of the peninsula and Mayan history grows daily. The guests love the fact there is never more than eight on the adventure.
Why did you choose Calle 82 for your location?
We did not want to be in the zone of bars, hotels, buses and traffic. Quiet and neighborhood-y was our appeal, but the number one thing was the “breeze.” There always seems to be a breeze down 82 and it just feels great.
What’s next for David and Patrick? Expansion? Something totally different?
We never know what tomorrow will bring. I think for now we are good. There have been lots of changes over the past year, fine tuning, enhancements and streamlining. Every successful business needs a master plan. Our first had a full line café and restaurant included. We still have that on the books and who knows? Our vision for an eatery is very similar to our product now: when you walk through the door, you won’t feel like you are not in Mexico. Key factors have to be Style, Service, Value and Hospitality.
We do not want to be married to the building, we are married to each other. We still travel quite extensively and will never change that. Our model is not to be open year round, and so far its working for us.
Sounds like in a very short time, you’ve become a big part of Mérida’s social fabric.
As a member of any new community we always want to help where we can. As a startup our resources are not as big as some, but still, what we have done, we have done for the right reasons.
Recently we just held our second annual Holiday Gathering and Toy Drive for the local orphanage. Traditionally, this has been a private event and very successful, and next year our planning committee has chosen a chairperson, a lovely member of the expat community, to take this event to the next level. Stay tuned. We have hosted Dinner with Friends for Brazos Abiertos and Patrick has volunteered for them as well.
I am a member of the Mérida Writer’s Group which I look forward to each week at the Mérida English Library.
Assuming you have any spare time, do you pursue any other interests?
Currently my new project, a second novel is coming along very nicely. There is considerable talent in the group and each week we are all inspired to be better storytellers. How cool is that?
Also, no home is complete without some furry friends. Mini, Max, Mario and Mo keep us on our toes.