The Staying Power of Great Hotel Restaurants

 
Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, Missouri, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, Missouri, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Hotel Phillips

No longer just an on-site amenity, hotel restaurants have become destinations in their own right, attracting locals, tourists, and dining dollars into the hotel setting.

Along 12th Street in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the upscale Hotel Phillips rises 20 stories into the Midwestern air, a distinguished, stately presence in an area teeming with new development and fresh energy.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 85-year-old, art deco gem seemingly constructed from the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby features intricate bronze and nickel metalwork, marble walls, and a gilded 11-foot likeness of the goddess of dawn hovering over its lobby.

When Chicago-based Arbor Lodging Partners purchased the 217-room boutique hotel last October, refashioning the hotel’s food and beverage program stood at the top of leadership’s whiteboard. 

“Guests are demanding a more holistic experience at hotels, and you have to keep up, particularly on the food and beverage side,” Arbor Lodging co-founder and CEO Vamsi Bonthala says.

Arbor Lodging’s efforts, which started in earnest this past summer, included converting a pair of underutilized spaces into a coffee concept and a speakeasy-style bar, while Bonthala and his team also started plotting a new full-service restaurant concept to replace 12 Baltimore, the property’s longstanding three-meal dining establishment.

Though 12 Baltimore scored solid results, thanks to a dedicated team, it was, Bonthala acknowledges, a restaurant created to serve hotel guests first and foremost, but it was lacking any connection to Kansas City and its burgeoning downtown core.

Seeing opportunity—or, more accurately, need—Arbor Lodging teamed with DMK Restaurants, a heralded Chicago-based multi-concept restaurant group led by David Morton and Chef Michael Kornick. In July, they began the process of re-concepting 12 Baltimore into a destination restaurant more befitting its place inside Hotel Phillips. Hence, Tavernonna Italian Kitchen is slated to open in December.

The ultimate goal, Bonthala explains, is for this new Hotel Phillips restaurant to deliver chef-driven cuisine and Kansas City flavors in a sophisticated, yet unpretentious, setting as relevant for first dates as for family celebrations.

“The restaurant will absolutely be an extension of the hotel’s identity,” Bonthala says. “We know if there’s not thought put into the design, character, and food of the restaurant, then it hurts the overall impression of the hotel, and that’s something that cannot happen.”

In today’s era of foodie culture, social media, and heightened hospitality competition, upscale hotel operators like Arbor Lodging have ditched status quo food and beverage. Hotel restaurants are increasingly concocted as revenue drivers and marketplace differentiators, becoming dining destinations as eager to connect with the local market as with travelers.

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