This is a rollercoaster Adair Mueller never imagined she’d be riding. Her dream project, the Durham Food Hall, finally comes to fruition after more than five years in the making … just as a worldwide pandemic hits, bringing a halt to normal life as we know it.
“I could never have made it up if I tried,” she says. “This is just beyond what I would have thought could ever happen. I mean, literally every roadblock that could happen in construction, we hit. But we got through them all, and it took a lot of extra time and a lot of extra effort.
“Then, we get to this point – and a global pandemic. … It’s certainly bittersweet in many ways, but at the same time, I’m just excited to be able to show any part of what we have to the community, and, hopefully, we’ll get the response we need for folks to support us through this time. So we can be here in the future.”
The Food Hall opened this week in Liberty Warehouse across from the Durham Farmers Market, more than a year after its initial planned opening. Adair gives credit to her team members Kristin Bedinger, the hall manager, and Brad Farran, the beverage director, for working together to make it happen. They’re rolling out vendors every couple of weeks, starting this week with Liturgy Beverage and Everything Bagels.
The Auctioneer Bar, the central bar in the hall, and the Small Maker Retail corner currently offer a couple of fun, unique items for purchase online. Due to state law, Adair and her team can’t serve spirits, but they’ve found ways to work around that: make-your-own cocktail and wine kits, and signature Food Hall mixers.
“We’ve made homemade mixers that come with this cute little recipe card that has some recommended recipes on it and ways to utilize them,” Adair says. “The fresh-squeezed juice was made in-house with a couple of spices and bitters and things mixed into them, so that folks can just pour and enjoy at home. Same thing for our cocktail kits, [which] come with all of the alcohol needed; [they] use something like vermouth or Prosecco, and then you get a full bottle of each ingredient to go home and make your cocktails with.”
Cocktail kits are an inventive way to pass the time while each of the eight confirmed food vendors reinvents its menu for takeout; some are creating new brands specifically for this time. Here’s that plan, as told exclusively to Durham Magazine :
Opening May 19
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 7am-2pm
What it is: Locally sourced, specialty coffee, tea and chocolate.
Adair says: “Tim Jones, who owns Liturgy, has placed in the World Barista Championship. So he really knows his stuff. He’s very, very passionate about what he does, and so we’re quite excited for him to unveil and for all the coffee aficionados to come out.”
Opening May 22
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 7am-2pm
What it is: Gourmet. Bagels. Sometimes bagel burgers 👀
Adair says: “[Jen Kremer] does amazing avant-garde bagels. One of my favorites that she does is a seaweed bagel with kimchi cream cheese. It is so good, and it gives you that flavor explosion. She’ll be doing bagged bagels, larger quantities of their cream cheeses, smears, but also smaller, singular quantities.”
Old North Meats and Provisions
Pop-up May 22-24 & May 29-31
Opening June 3
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-7pm
What it is: Cheeses, sausages, house-smoked meats, deli sandwiches, charcuterie boards.
Adair says: “Old North is going to focus on sandwiches. They cure and smoke their own meats, make their own sausages. They, too, will probably do sandwich kits where you can get a larger number of ingredients – maybe meat sliced by the pound, loaves of bread – that you can take home and create your own sandwiches from multiple sandwiches, as well as one or two to order.”
Afters Dessert Bar
Opening May 25
What it is: Cookie cakes and dessert flights.
Adair says: “Steven Kennedy, who owns the dessert bar, was the head pastry chef at Four Square in Durham before it closed, and he worked with Ashley Christiansen before that. So he’s got an incredible background and just a very delicate, delicious touch to what he does. His items, his chocolates, everything is beautiful.”
Napoli Pizza and Gelato
Opening May 28
What it is: Slightly fine-dining version of pizza.
Adair says: “[Gael Chatelain] will probably do fresh pizzas but also frozen pizzas and then gelatos and sorbets that he makes from scratch by the pint – that’ll be delicious.”
Lula & Sadie’s
Opening May 29
Hours: Monday-Saturday, lunch, 11am-2pm; dinner, 4-8pm; Sunday brunch, 10am-3pm
What it is: From the people behind Bull City Street Food food truck. Regional Southern food, from scalloped potatoes and hot cakes to tomato salad and chicken pot pie.
Adair says: “Seasonal Southern fare. Harry [Monds], the owner, is joined by his son, Harry Jr., who just graduated from culinary school. Father Harry has owned multiple restaurants throughout the ages, so he knows all the tricks in the book. But the son’s coming in with some new avant-garde things to shake it up. They’ll probably focus on a lot of take-and-bake, so lasagnas and casseroles and larger dishes that you can take home and bake and enjoy for a couple of meals.”
Locals Seafood Market & Oyster Bar
Opening May 29
Hours: Sunday, Thursday, Friday, 11am-6pm; Saturday 9am-6pm
What it is: A fresh fish market also specializing in oysters.
Adair says: “Locals Seafood is going to really focus on market fish. They’re doing a lot of fish that you can take home and cook yourself. And they go to the coast every day, so it’ll be super fresh and delicious. They might do some brining and stuffing of some fish so that it’s elevated a bit, and you’ve got a little special treat.”
Ex Voto’s Burrito Bodega (Ex Voto Cocina Nixtamal)
Opening May 29
Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 11:30am-7pm
What it is: Dedicated to tortilla and tamale making, Taco Tuesday a regular Sunday service. One of the few taquerias in the South to use a technique called nixtamalization – pounding corn into masa.
Adair says: “They will also be focusing on making their concept more available for takeout, which for them is going to mean burritos. So they’re going to be unveiling burrito bodega and that will travel a lot better than tacos might, and burrito bowls as well. They may have a couple of tacos, but again, we all want to try and give the customer the best experience and that might mean varying the menu a little bit from what was previously planned and then coming back to it once folks are able to dine in.”
One more vendor to add to the list:
Bowerbird Flowers & Apothecary
Bouquets available May 20 & 22 – preorders encouraged
Opening May 27
What it is: Seasonal blooms thoughtfully sourced and artfully arranged
Adair says: “They are debuting a botanical bar, so they will have gorgeous locally sourced flowers [and] plants for folks to enjoy. They have a lot of other herbal, health products and teas. And then they will unveil this botanical bar, which will have their special elixirs and tonics and things they make themselves.”