When Rhode Islanders Michael & Kathy Dumont purchased their remote, 400 acre getaway in middle Tennessee, they intended to retire there in a few decades. Little did they know they would spawn a restoration and re-invigorating re-birth of a sleepy, neglected town only a few years later.
Michael has always had a passion for preserving historical buildings and homes. Starting with renovations of lofts in Boston, to restoration of a 1756 Sea Captain’s home in Rhode Island, Michael honed his gift of “hearing the space”. “A vision comes to me, and I see the space as she was meant to be,” says Dumont.
It was natural he would restore the mid-1800’s, dilapidated farmhouse on their farm in Tennessee. Then, buying and restoring the all-but-forgotten 1939 hotel in the middle of town seemed like a piece of cake.
“We’d never been in the hotel or restaurant business – besides eating at a lot of nice restaurants,” jokes Kathy. The Dumonts tackled this business first as a restoration project - and then were met with the challenge of running it, when the operator who originally made the deal got a job in another state. Their backgrounds in real estate and finance seem like an odd match to the hospitality business, but “Kathy has always loved to entertain – and makes everyone feel welcome and at ease. She knows how to throw a great dinner party,” says Michael. So they dove in.
Another Rhode Island-er in this story is Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, for whom the county is named. “it was an obvious choice to name the hotel after this War of 1812 hero from Rhode Island,” says Kathy.
His famous flag he carried in his victorious Battle of Lake Erie said “Don’t Give Up the Ship”! The Bicentennial of this battle is September 10, 2013. There are roughly 30 U.S. cities and counties named for Perry.
Restoration went well… The narrow-planked oak flooring was stripped of its 70s era multicolored shag carpeting. They were re-finished, along with restoration of the original period tile floors and tubs in several bathrooms. Art decor door hinges and doorknobs were salvaged.
The warm, brick walls were exposed. You can imagine those brick-layers working in 1939, with good, old fashioned sweat and pride. The huge, broken windows were replaced. Today, when you open them, you can still smell the grass and trees of this small Southern town.
The Commodore Cafe, originally opened as Staley Café with a jukebox in the corner. Later a Western Auto store, then only to be transformed into a casual and artsy eatery. In April, 2013, the Café upgraded with the addition of Executive Chef Michael Grauer, from the Marriott Hotels & Resorts. “The Dumonts’ dedication, commitment and tenacity in restoring and renewing a dilapidated building, and in striving to make it a successful business were inspiring,” says Grauer. “I wanted to be part of that.” After 12 years between Embassy Suites and the Marriott Hotel in Franklin, TN, Grauer knows how to feed a crowd well. Up to 1,600 in one day, in fact. From gourmet to country favorites, Grauer has a flair that made a recent customer remark, “from Maine to Spain, those are the best crab cakes I have ever tasted!” Chef Michael’s creative menus are a fusion of traditional Southern flavors and classic culinary techniques, brought to life with fresh, local ingredients.
Along with the hotel’s re-birth, Linden’s downtown street scape got a makeover. More businesses have started moving into the downtown. There are only two vacant storefronts, where there were ten before this started. Courageous shop-keepers are reviving historic buildings and opening unique stores. There’s even summertime “Music on Main Street” annual concert series. As hotel owner Kathy Dumont says, “We’ll keep restoring, renovating and improving here. We are dedicated to making it work in Linden.” Mayor Jim Azbill adds, “A renaissance is definitely happening here, and you can see it while the paint is still fresh.”