Sage aims to reinvent hotel dining

Maggie Longo sees more than drywall and dust when she looks at the site where Temple Downtown Restaurant and Lounge is slated to open in March.

The general manager sees a 20-step descent into what feels like the bowels of a Masonic Temple. The Masons’ emblem is engraved on the marble-tiled floor in the lobby. Beyond that is a freestanding bar made of hammered copper. Past that, and through a decorative arch, is the dining area.

The walls and upholstery are in burnt oranges, reds and caramel. Archways define the plush booths that line either side. The State House gleams through the windows.

That’s what Longo sees, even if it’s months away. But there’s more at stake with the future restaurant than its appearance.

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Sage Hospitality Resources, the Denver-based company that is transforming the Masonic Temple into a 274-room luxury hotel called the Renaissance Providence Hotel, has set out to create signature restaurants that operate independently from the hotels that house them.

Temple Downtown will be the first restaurant opened by the Sage Restaurant Group, a division the hospitality company created last year, Longo said. It will also be the first Sage-owned restaurant to operate under the new business model.

“We aren’t going to be reliant on the hotel for our business,” Longo said. “For our business, the community is our client base.”

Peter Karpinski, senior vice president of restaurants for Sage Restaurant Group, said the idea is to have patrons think of the restaurant as more than a hotel amenity. “We like to think if you live in Providence, you will know you’re going to the Temple to eat, not to the hotel,” he said.

That’s why the restaurant will have its own entrance, separate from the hotel’s, Karpinski said. And it will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, to meet the whole spectrum of customers’ needs. Many traditional hotel restaurants are open only for dinner.

And that’s why each of the four restaurants Sage Restaurant Group plans to open next year will have a unique interior design and menu, Karpinski said. The idea is to create a dining experience that is unique to each city.

In Temple’s case, that means preserving the building’s history in the new design, Longo said. The building was started by the Masons in 1927, but abandoned in 1929 for unknown reasons.

Longo decided to commemorate the building’s Masonic history by incorporating elements of Masonry into the restaurant’s décor. For example, she found some antique sheepskin aprons once worn by Masons, which she plans to have placed in shadow boxes.
And because the building is most recently known for having been a haven for graffiti artists, Longo said, she has commissioned New Urban Arts to create original graffiti art for the restaurant.

Tyler Denmead, New Urban Arts’ founder and executive director, said the inside of the Masonic Temple was covered “head-to-toe” with graffiti before Sage started renovating the property. Some of those artists were undoubtedly New Urban Arts’ high school student artists, he said.

The restaurant commission would be a new experience for them, Denmead said, though the plan is still tentative. “It would be a validating experience,” he said.

Longo said she hopes the local art and Masonic accents, combined with brasserie-type food, will create an atmosphere to which diners will want to return.

She knows a few things about Providence’s dining community, having developed and managed restaurants in the city for several years. And she hopes that the prices will help attract a diverse crowd. Most people should be able to eat breakfast at Temple for about $10, she said. Lunch could range from $8 to $12. The most expensive dinner entrée will be about $20.

The restaurant will seat about 240 people, Longo said, and is expected to employ 100 to 150. In addition, she said, Temple will provide all the food for catered events and room service in the hotel.