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The Voice of the Black Community


Where have all the restaurants gone?
Published Wednesday, September 4, 2019
by Hadassah Patterson, Special To The Tribune

If you’ve kept your eye on the pulse of Durham lately, you’ve noticed a rather earth-shattering shift in the economics of hospitality of late. Leaving aside politics for a moment, the current state of our economy has farms, restaurants, and the hospitality industry as a whole reeling and resetting.

In the last span of a few years, we’ve seen numerous restaurants shutter or change hands. For instance, Oval Park Grille on Broad Street gave way to Deeluxe Fried Chicken, run by Scott Howell of Nana’s fame and Rick Robinson of RISE. In the same structure, longtime owner Chef Amy Tornquist has closed Watts Grocery and rebranded to The Sage – an event space that will be available for rentals and catered options.

Chef Shane Ingram and co-owner Elizabeth Woodhouse of FourSquare parted ways with the historic home of 16 years of fine dining. Primal and Blu Seafood have closed, and Durham Chef Tim Lyons and family have relocated. Chef Matt Beason of Mattie B’s and Black Twig Cider House has also changed career direction. While not all transitions have been economically or financially prompted, it is remarkable that mainstream and well-loved local institutions focusing on quality have closed doors or changed hands. And it has left fans of award-winning cuisine feeling a bit up-in-arms.

What does this trend portend for minority-owned businesses?

Well, for one, we are still seeing more new concepts open – Zweli’s Zimbabwean cuisine, and Nolia Coffee + Family – a family-friendly coffee shop – are a few. Some long-term restaurants are still growing like Michael Lee’s M restaurant concepts, for instance. KoKyu BBQ has continued to grow with Na’mean and KoKyu INC, including produce from their own farm acreage at Good Hope Farm, as well as spots like The Palace International, which also hosts events downstairs in The Vault venue.

Chef Sydney Coves of True Flavors Diner has grown his location from the RTP brunch eatery to the Lakewood Diner location. Elizabeth Turnbull and Roberto Copa Matos of Old Havana Sandwich Shop now occupy the space of the former Revolution restaurant as COPA Durham. Unlike the trend in minority farming, minority restaurants seem to be growing in our area. One wonders if much of this is due to assistance programs and opportunities made available to small businesses and minority development options or plain, old-fashioned time and temperaments changing the face of the city.

Beginning coverage of the downtown Durham farmer’s market in 2010 gives one the opportunity to observe, meet, and work with all manner of folks from ground to table, and the evolution of the hospitality industry continues to amaze. Any Durham native may find it easy to recall a time when there were only a couple of restaurants with globally-inspired cuisine. For anyone with a passion for culinary, the resurgence of the farm-to-table movement was heady and uplifting. Seeing these same influential chefs part ways and move on to other projects or life endeavors can cause questioning over the future of farm-to-table cuisine as a whole. While some globally inspired restaurants like Zenfish – in Durham and Morrisville source local, and others have maintained that stance long-term – not all locations are laser-focused on the notion of supporting local or minority farms. But the fact remains that the culture promoted by many of these folks has endured and is still appreciated by diners in the community at-large.

Perhaps this is less the end of an era and more so the result of one.



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