Operating in the same space on Sixth Avenue since 1910, the historic Hermitage Hotel is the grande dame of Nashville’s luxury lodging options. As the state’s only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star hotel property, The Hermitage Hotel stands out in a crowded hospitality field. Its signature restaurant, Capitol Grille, is located in the German-style rathskellar in the basement of the gorgeous Beaux-Arts-style building and is beloved as one of the oldest restaurants in Tennessee.
In the face of constant downtown construction of towering new skyscraper hotels and boutique properties popping up in old office and bank buildings in the neighborhood around Printers Alley, how does The Hermitage Hotel manage to still stand out in this crowded field? Hotel General Manager Dee Patel chalks it up to a laser focus on the experience of the guest. “It boils down to attention to the details,” she explains. “We teach our employees grace and preach a culture and tradition of basic practices of civility. Whether you’re taking the time to prepare a guest’s meal or taking care of their guest room, we always want to be mindful and thoughtful of the idea of experiential service.”
That doesn’t mean that The Hermitage Hotel can rest on its laurels; indeed the staff always has an eye on what’s current. Director of Food and Beverage Tony Liartis recognizes that out-of-town guests and locals alike have plenty of choices. “More than a hundred restaurants have opened in Nashville in the past year, but we’ve proven that we can stand the test of time. Our chef looks at the new menu, the restaurant decor and even the tablescapes with an eye on today. We’re going to be current, but we’re not going to do something crazy.”
Dee concurs that it’s possible to be classic and current at the same time. “We’re always progressing year after year, and I enjoy seeing us continue to grow. When we work hard to add new elements to the guest rooms every year to upgrade the experience, it’s always lovely to hear from our loyal guests that they notice that we’ve added a new bathroom mirror with a television embedded in it or more pillow choices for the room or new device charging stations. Even though our most loyal guests will probably stay with us regardless, it’s nice that they notice. We try to be very thoughtful about what details we add so we can be approachable without being stuffy.”
One important new detail that The Hermitage Hotel and Capitol Grille have added in the past year is new executive chef, Derek Brooks, who joined the team in December of 2017. Chef Brooks has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens and at luxury resorts across the country before moving to Nashville. A major reason that The Hermitage Hotel was able to lure Brooks to their kitchen was their relationship with The Land Trust for Tennessee and their joint venture operating an heirloom garden at The Land Trust for Tennessee’s historic 65-acre Glen Leven Farm tucked away off of Franklin Road just a few miles from the hotel.
“The menu speaks for itself,” exclaims Chef Brooks. “Locals and out-of-town guests expect to see the Southern classics like fried green tomatoes, Brunswick stew and the sweet onion bisque, but the access to the garden is what makes it truly special!” A full-time staff gardener works the two-acre plot most days, but much of the labor to plant, tend to and harvest the garden comes from volunteer staff from the hotel and restaurant. “Glen Leven really is a team effort,” explains Chef Brooks. “The team and I are there almost every day, and it’s beautiful to go out there and relax while thinking about what’s going to be coming out of the garden and how we can use it to delight our guests. I get to take our younger cooks out there to see where their produce comes from so that they appreciate it more. Knowing that you had a hand in growing something really makes you take better care of your ingredients.”
This year marks the 10-year anniversary between The Hermitage Hotel and The Land Trust. Dee says it’s a natural fit. “We started a visionary program around our centennial celebration in 2008 to identify who we are and how we can celebrate our culture.”
Liz McLaurin, President and CEO of The Land Trust for Tennessee stresses the importance of the organization’s alliance with the hotel. “The team at The Hermitage Hotel is a visionary one – a local asset with a global reach. As a nonprofit organization working to conserve land across the state, we rely on philanthropy to achieve our mission. Through The Hermitage Hotel’s innovative guest giving program, The Land Trust has received over $800,000 to support both our statewide work and our stewardship of Glen Leven Farm. The Hermitage Hotel’s commitment is so deep that they ensure that their guests have the opportunity to learn about the importance of forever conserving irreplaceable places in Tennessee.”
Since then, the funds raised by The Hermitage Hotel have directly supported the acquisition and conservation of more than 85,000 acres of land in Tennessee through the Land Trust. These protected lands will offer opportunities for visitors to bike, hike, fish and farm for generations to come. The Hermitage Hotel was also instrumental in helping The Land Trust restore the 1857 home on the historic Glen Leven grounds.
Dee and her team aren’t afraid of hard work. “We’re actually out there getting our hands dirty.”
Chef Brooks adds, “I’m out there working closely with our gardener Sarah Edmonds, walking the rows a couple times a week making plans for what’s next to harvest and how we can use it on our menu. The kitchen is never routine at the Capitol Grille; we’ve always got new things to look forward to, and the summer garden truly helps support the menu as the staff comes up with new dishes.
Tony is thankful that so many Hermitage employees volunteer to work at Glen Leven. “We love to have the chef out there, but we need him in the kitchen too! Our structure allows the chef to do both things.”
Liz appreciates the efforts of The Hermitage Hotel staff. “The team at Capitol Grille takes tremendous care to cultivate their heirloom garden at The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm. Through this unique farming partnership, diners at the Capitol Grille not only enjoy fresh, locally harvested food, they experience the meaningful connection between people and place.”
Although Glen Leven Farm is not usually open to the public, occasionally hotel staff will take a guest on a private tour of the garden, or the hotel will hold special events on the farm. Walking around the farm, visitors can see row after row filled with future menu items for Capitol Grille or the Oak Bar: various varieties of heirloom beans, edible flowers like nasturtium, corn, greens, herbs, tomatoes, squash and root vegetables.
Dee values the relationship with The Land Trust for Tennessee and Glen Leven. “It’s an important part of our story, one that we want to share with our guests. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, we use Glen Leven produce for banquet service, bar snacks, room service and for our employee cafe, where we provide our team two meals a day.”
Chef Brooks is already planning for his next menu. “We’re working on a cover crop for fall and planning for autumn,” he says. “We’re looking for more varieties of heirloom squashes and pumpkins, types that aren’t available in your local grocery to help us stay on the culinary cusp. We also save our seeds and share them with other farms to help preserve these heirloom crops. Part of being a chef is giving back, making sure our kitchen is being engaged and properly trained. Thanks to Glen Leven and The Land Trust, we have opportunities to work with ingredients they don’t see just anywhere, and that’s great.”
It’s also pretty special for the guests at The Hermitage Hotel and diners at Capitol Grille.
This article is sponsored by The Hermitage Hotel. All photography by Grannis Photography unless otherwise noted.