The Edwin Hotel, Chattanooga's newest boutique hotel, is built on stories.
"When we broke ground, we found all these old apothecary bottles in the dirt," says Greg Bradley, the hotel's general manager. Those bottles were given to local Ignis Glass Studio, where they will be turned into functional art to be used at Whitebird, the hotel's ground-floor restaurant.
Whitebird, Bradley says, is "the heart of the property," designed to pay tribute to the community — much like the hotel's art, all of which is local. Alongside the front desk, an eye-catching art installation leads the way to the restaurant: a serpentine band of fiberglass butterflies, fading from pink to purple to blue to green.
"Butterflies represent revitalization. They represent Chattanooga," Bradley says. "We've come a long way since the days of Walter Cronkite calling us 'the dirtiest city in America.'"
But that piece's significance extends beyond symbolism. Each butterfly in the display is printed with an old photograph of Chattanooga, and collectively, their shape forms that of the Tennessee River. Bradley points to one butterfly affixed with a yellow pin.
"This is where we are," he says.
Located at the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge, The Edwin's Whitebird restaurant specializes in elevated Southern cuisine. But like those butterflies, its menu is more than meets the eye.
"We are storytellers," says executive chef Kevin Korman. "Everything in our kitchen tells a story."
For example, one of the best-selling dishes, the roast beef, tells a tale from Korman's childhood.
"My grandmother died when I was 12, so she never knew I went into this work. I remember her kitchen had a butcher block table — a lot like the one we have here. Her roast beef was my favorite thing. I can't replicate it, but this recipe is my homage to her," Korman says.
And then there are the stories behind Whitebird's ingredients, sourced from local farmers and regional food makers — Kentucky's Bourbon Barrel Foods, for example, from whom Korman buys handcrafted soy sauce.
"It's the only artisanal soy sauce produced in the country. This guy went to Japan to study it. Who thinks that deeply about soy sauce?" Korman says.
Or, yet another example, produce from Chattanooga's Crabtree Farms.
"[Crabtree] is genuinely excited about food. They grow things just to grow things, just to see if it works, like hibiscus. I've used the flowers for tea before, but [Crabtree] tapped into using it for its leaves, which are delicious," Korman says.
Every Thursday evening, Whitebird hosts a Chef's Table, which takes place in the dining area around a 10-top white stone table. The event features 10-12 off-menu courses showcasing Korman's culinary style, which he describes as "the brighter, lighter side of cooking."
Then, about once a month, the Chef's Table focuses on one of the restaurant's partners, with every dish featuring ingredients from that company.
"Say we featured Goodman Coffee," Korman says, referring to the local roaster that developed a signature blend for The Edwin's on-site coffee shop, Provisions. "We'd work their coffee into every course. We might do a beet salad with chocolate, coffee and fig. For dessert, we might do streusel made with coffee."
Representatives from these companies also attend these dinners, where they, too, share their stories.
"It adds another layer. It makes it all more interesting," Korman says.
The purpose, says Bradley, is to connect patrons more meaningfully to the community. From the art to the food to the people, "the hotel is full of hidden discoveries," he says.