It’s evident by the number of cranes dotting Durham’s landscape that our city is in the middle of a major growth spurt, and it’s not just builders and investors who view this as prime time for new opportunity. The fact that we have seen several well-known restaurants expand and open up a second (sometimes third!) location in recent months shows that now is the time for many in the local food industry to catch their second wind.
Ten years since opening Scratch Bakery downtown, award-winning pastry chef Phoebe Lawless opened her first full-scale restaurant, The Lakewood, last spring in the expanding neighborhood of the same name (which also recently welcomed the third Cocoa Cinnamon location and a new thrift store component of The Scrap Exchange). As Phoebe planned out the new space, she knew it would make an ideal spot to include a second version of the bakery, and so, “Baby Scratch” was born. (She has since made the decision to close the downtown location of Scratch).
In that same vicinity, Wendy Woods, longtime resident of the city’s West End and owner of Nosh, made good on a dream to open a fun and friendly eatery in her neighborhood, renovating an old gas station across from the Durham Co-Op Market and turning it into a modern diner called GRUB.
After five years of operating out of his popular seafood shack on Mangum Street, Chef Ricky Moore also opened a second Saltbox Seafood Joint location in December, inside the former Shrimp Boats restaurant on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard. As popularity for his lightly battered and fried, fresh North Carolina fish grew, so did the line and the wait times. By taking the opportunity to open an additional location – a more traditional restaurant complete with inside seating – Ricky expanded his service to a growing base of customers.
Gray Brooks and the team behind Pizzeria Toro also continue to weave culinary roots across the city, this December opening up Jack Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter. In addition to Littler, which opened in 2016, this is their third restaurant downtown.
Durham has become a very desirable spot for expanding food and drink businesses based in other parts of the Triangle as well. Take, for instance, Neomonde, a popular Mediterranean restaurant and bakery, with locations in Raleigh and Morrisville. This crowd-pleasing eatery makes its Durham debut this winter in the lower level of the Unscripted Durham, also home to Jack Tar and Pour Taproom, an Asheville-based, pour-your-own-brew concept that now has seven locations in the South and California and continues to expand.
Raleigh-based wine shop, bar and lounge The Wine Feed’s owners could not wait to explore options in the Bull City as they looked at opening a second place. “We have enjoyed the food and beverage scene in Durham for many years,” says co-owner Philip Rubin. “Being Raleigh natives, going to some of Durham’s great restaurants always felt like a mini vacation and special treat. We were drawn to that location [on South Roxboro Street, next to Bull City Ciderworks] because there is a tremendous amount of development on that side of Durham with apartments, offices and other retail filling up the lots across the street from us.”
Chapel Hill’s Beer Study had the same idea, searching for a couple of years for the perfect spot to expand in the Bull City before it all finally came together at their current location in the Rockwood Shopping Center on University Drive.
When construction caused Finch’s Family Restaurant – a long-standing Raleigh staple – to pack up and move, they too pioneered into Durham and converted an old plant nursery, retail shop and greenhouse on Old Chapel Hill Road into their new diner.
The quick growth of the area, while boosting the restaurant economy, also comes with some drawbacks, the cost of leasing a building downtown being one of them. This is what promoted Beyù Caffè to move a couple doors down into a building they now own, and the popular Old Havana Sandwich Shop to decide to recently purchase and make plans to move into the former Revolution restaurant space. “Through our journey at Old Havana, we made a commitment to be part of the farm-to-table movement and knew we wanted to focus more on cultivating relationships from the soil to the table while showcasing the diversity of forgotten flavors from 19th-century Cuba,” says owner Roberto Copa Matos. “As we searched for an adequate space, we found many difficulties in the leasing market and decided to pursue the route of owning our own restaurant space. When we found out that –with the help of an SBA loan and the generous gifts from family and friends – we could purchase the old Revolution space, we knew we had found our perfect match.” COPA, located at 107 W. Main St., will focus on tapas and cocktails of old Cuba.
One of the most satisfying aspects of this wave of new spots in the food scene is knowing that it is driven by local restaurateurs and chefs – people from the community we love, cooking
the food we love, sticking around to share it with us.
Photography by Briana Brough