When 26-year-old restaurant icon Nana’s held its last service June 30, the resounding question was, “What’s next for Scott Howell?”
A stalwart of the Durham dining scene, the eight-time James Beard Award semifinalist opened Nana’s in 1992, and the fine dining establishment was soon a firm favorite.
“Nana’s was always what it was, it just got too financially difficult to operate,” Scott says. “We were doing great business, we just needed to do more business because everything got scaled out of proportion, and it just didn’t make sense anymore.”
Despite continuing to run three other successful businesses (quick-service Mexican at NanaTaco, classic steakhouse NanaSteak and craft-cocktail specialist Bar Virgile) Scott needed a hot minute to catch his breath.
“Well … I’m kind of regrouping a little bit, I’m the first to admit, but it’s starting to come together,” Scott says.
By coming together, Scott is referring to DeeLuxe Chicken, a fried chicken joint he opened September 12 with fellow Magnolia Grill alum, Rick Robinson. Embracing the same fast-casual concept as NanaTaco, DeeLuxe will offer a counter-service menu as well as live music – the latter once it’s a little more established in its Broad Street digs (in the former Oval Park Grille space).
Speaking of live music, at the time of publication, Scott was in the process of putting a building under contract.
“I’ve had some meetings and hey, I’ll be honest, there are a couple of people who doubt me – and rightly so – because they’ve seen that it’s been a difficult year for me and question whether I’m up to the task,” Scott says. “For a while I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m up to the task, I may want to rethink this.’
“But then I had this revelation. I’m 55 years old. I’ve got 10 good years left. Maybe I do want to take another chance by basically rolling the dice again on a big property.”
That property is in East Durham: “lower Durham,” or “LoDu,” as Scott calls it (it’s a nod to Denver’s thriving LoDo district) – he’s hoping it’ll catch on. Though Scott is still crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, he’s eager to roll up his sleeves and get in on the ground floor of this new venture. Feasibility planning is underway, and though the concept is ever-evolving, patrons can expect a family-friendly live music venue with separate dining and drinking areas to cater to different tastes.
In fitting with the warehouse setting, Scott shares that the aptly named Scrap Yard is not going to be fancy. “We’re going to open it up, clean it up, but it’s going to be gritty,” he says.
Though Scrap Yard is at least a year away, Scott’s enthusiasm is obvious, as is his drive to succeed.
“I’ve been excited about Durham for 30 years, but I’m really excited about what’s going on now – there’s a lot of cool stuff …” Scott says. “I need to finish what I started. I need to keep doing things that I think are cool and that add a lot to Durham.”
And as for the former Nana’s location? “There’ll be something back in that area,” Scott assures. “I love that space. I’ll do a groovy little place that I know the locals will come to. That was one of the things that I was most proud about – that the locals kept coming back.”