‘Approachable, but elevated’: Chef Tyler Akin’s plan to modernize Hotel du Pont’s Green Room

Sheila Marlowe, a hostess at the Green Room for 13 years and counting, sets up a table during lunch on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at the Hotel DuPont in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Sheila Marlowe, a hostess at the Green Room for 13 years and counting, sets up a table during lunch on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at the Hotel DuPont in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

The dining room at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington has been the social focal point of the city since the hotel’s opening in 1913, home to business dealings and weddings and other celebrations.

The historic restaurant is known for its traditional European service and its elegant décor, with intricate woodwork, an ornate plaster ceiling, and golden chandeliers.

Most recently known as the Green Room, the formal restaurant hasn’t been updated in 16 years. But the landmark space will see a new milestone next year. It closes its doors at the end of January to make way for a French brasserie.

The new restaurant, to open in April, will be led by chef Tyler Akin of Philadelphia’s Stock and Res Ipsa Cafe.

The menu will feature cuisine inspired by Provence and North Africa and include entrees such as swordfish à la Grecque, gnocchi Parisienne with jumbo lump crab, and rougette de veau.

Growing up, Akin dined at the Green Room with his family to celebrate special occasions like his grandmother’s birthday. He said he has warm memories of the grand dining room that transported him to a time long gone.

Tyler Akin will be the new executive chef at the Green Room located inside the Hotel DuPont in downtown Wilmington. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

While the Green Room provides a sense of nostalgia for some, Akin said it’s time the restaurant gets a fresh perspective.

“I think it’s time for the dining room to enter a new era, while we are sensitive to all the memories people have in that space and all the special occasions and milestones that have been celebrated there,” he said.

“It’s a restaurant with bones that are beautiful, undeniable, and like few you would see anywhere. But in a lot of ways, it was a restaurant that was a bit stuck in the past. We’re excited to honor that past but bring it to a new era.”

In recent years, the Green Room has performed below its potential, said Dave Pollin, co-founder and president of the Buccini/Pollin Group and chairman of PM Hotel Group.

The restaurant has been used more for special occasions than for regular dining during evening hours. Pollin said he believes a new direction will make the dining room more profitable.

The new restaurant will meet the demand of those who seek dining options that aren’t exclusively formal, particularly at lunchtime, he said.

“People have less time, and an hour-and-15-minute lunch, that’s not possible for some people,” Pollin said. “[The Green Room is] a place where many people are in suits — although not everybody. And many guests today would prefer to dine in a more casual outfit, or if they work from home or work remotely, they don’t want to put on something they think they would need to wear.

The new three-meal restaurant, though getting a renovation, will maintain many of its historic elements, and will continue its high tea and formal menu items. However, it also will include light fare and bistro food.

Akin said he wants his restaurant to maintain its loyal customer base, but also be more accessible to a younger crowd.

“One thing we heard from the community was that there was a little bit of stuffiness remaining, which we are aiming to tone down a bit,” he said. “And have it be the kind of place where the music feels a bit more contemporary, the energy of the room is a bit more vibrant.”

While creating his menu, Akin said he spent several days at the Hagley Museum, digging through the archives of the hotel and dining room. He said he was inspired by its aesthetic and history of serving French cuisine.

He added that the menu will be sourced from local farms as much as possible.

Akin also pulls references from his own career, from his time studying French cuisine in culinary school, to working at Philadelphia’s Israeli restaurant Zahav and creating Italian fare at Res Ipsa.

He describes his coming Wilmington restaurant — as “approachable, but elevated.”

“I think people should expect a certain amount of high-low juxtaposition, where we’re serving a really excellent cut of meat or roasted chicken and maybe serve it with french fries,” Akin said. “It’s going to feel a bit more like 2020.”

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