On a quiet, unassuming corner where Central and Hawthorne meet in Charlotte’s quirky Plaza Midwood is a hospitality concept like no other. Co-owned by partners in work in life Nimisha and Jay Patel, and Anup Patel (Jay’s brother), Refuge is a five-room hybrid hotel that’s many things: a place to stay. A place to gather and work. It’s also home to Humbug, the highly anticipated bar pop-up by area industry veterans Larry Suggs and Andy Schools opening this week on August 3.
What else sets Refuge apart from other lodging in Charlotte, let alone the country, is how it will be leveled to the ground next year. And that’s because the Patels set Refuge up as a prototype to test out what works and what doesn’t for their upcoming boutique hotel that will eventually occupy the same address.
Since the Patels grew up in families who operated hotels and motels – a little known fact is that over 50% of U.S. hotel rooms are owned by Indian Americans – they have a refreshingly human-centric understanding of what guests might want while on the road. They’ve also witnessed a recent shift in people’s perception of hotels. “There’s a gap in the industry now,” comments Nimisha of how the surge of overly-filtered, “aspirational” social media posts can make even veteran jetsetters feel like they have to conform, look, and behave a certain way. “It’s no different than what Victoria’s Secret did to female body image in the 1990s. At Refuge, we want people to be themselves, their whole selves.” Jay agrees, and adds, “Our property is beautiful, has soul, and provides acceptance and belonging for everyone.”
With that in mind, Refuge offers just five rooms featuring distinctly different configurations and designs – imagine a vibrant, original mix of Jamaican and Indian touches like tropical leaf wallpaper and photos depicting Indian women playing cricket – by Jamaica-born interior designer Alicia Hylton-Daniel, so guests can choose what best fits their needs. For example: Room #1, The Residential Suite, offers two queen beds, along with a living area and wet bar, while Room #5, Pack. And Play., is set up similarly to a railroad-style apartment with a private nook, king futon bed, long workbench, and bathroom with walk-in shower.
What they do have in common is size. Ranging from 196 to 271 square feet, Refuge’s accommodations are considerably smaller than the average 325 square-foot American hotel room, but their carefully considered layouts – The Residential Suite’s queen beds are smartly set up toe-to-toe instead of side-by-side – help them feel more spacious than they actually are. In addition, the Patels are factoring in all guest stay feedback, good and bad, to further develop and fine-tune their upcoming hotel. “I don’t mind public criticism at all,” says Jay. “By holding me accountable, the stakes are higher.”
At the end of the day for the Patels, it’s all about hospitality that champions inclusivity and the local community. “Conventional formulas tell us not to build hotels in this kind of neighborhood, but we believe that culture always comes from people on the margins,” says Nimisha. “Plaza Midwood is progressive, and has such a strong sense of place. We’re hopefully putting things out there that will resonate with overlooked groups of people looking for a non-commercialized experience.”