Chef Ricky Moore‘s dreams couldn’t stay contained in the barely 200-square-foot joint forever. Growth was always a part of his plan. When the Shrimp Boats location on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard became available, Ricky knew it was time for action. “It felt good in my gut,” he says of the decision to purchase the 2,200-square-foot restaurant space after five years of growing his business organically out of the small service-window joint on North Mangum Street. “[Business] has been really healthy,” he says, “and it’s allowed me to be smart about what I’m doing, to have a little restraint and be patient.”
His patience paid off with this Art Deco restaurant built in 1969. “I’m a big time history buff, in how restaurants were built and why they were built in the way that they were,” Ricky says. “It’s a special structure, like no other, and what I’m going to do with it is going to highlight that.” This means the shrimp boat on the roof stays, as will the message board outside. And for the rest of the decor, he’s looking to the fish houses on the coast for inspiration. “When people come to the food stand, it feels like they are being transported from Durham to the beach,” Ricky says. He hopes to create the same effect with this restaurant, which will be acting as a prototype for expanding regionally.
And with more Saltboxes on the horizon, diners don’t have to worry about the quality wavering: The brand is built on fresh, coastal treasures. “We have a huge coastline with an abundance of species,” Ricky says. “I want to showcase those items and help redefine North Carolina’s seafood [cuisine].”
When the second location opens this summer, expect upwards of 50 seats, parking (yes!), Saltbox swag and the restaurant’s famous chalkboard – “that’s going to be a living, breathing thing” – with an expanded menu, delving into dishes like shareable steam pots as well as maintaining Saltbox’s polished, fast-casual favorites.
When it comes to the original joint, it will transform into a sort of “Saltbox Express,” offering a smaller set menu that will rotate different dishes, like speckled trout, throughout the week. “I want to create speed, particularly for the lunch crowd,” Ricky says. “You come in [to the old location] and your timing is going to be 20 minutes.”
“I want to give a shout out to the entire Durham tribe who has supported this little place from the beginning,” Ricky adds. “I appreciate them coming by consistently over the past couple years and being patient with us.”
Hey, it was always well worth the wait.