Over a year ago, James Beard Award-winning North Carolina chef Andrea Reusing dropped the bombshell news that after more than 10 years running Lantern in Chapel Hill, she would finally be opening a second restaurant — in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Now, with its debut just a few months away, Reusing reveals more plans for the restaurant and lounge at the still-under-construction boutique hotel, The Durham.
"I think that what Durham needs is this place that's like a community living room."
Reusing is heading up two main concepts: a rooftop lounge and a full-service restaurant. The names are quite simple and uncapitalized: these projects will simply be called "the roof at The Durham" and "the restaurant at The Durham,"reflecting Reusing's goal of creating a multi-use space that invites a sense of community and a sense of ease. "It goes to the whole reason why I wanted to do the project in a lot of ways," she says of the names (or the lack thereof). "I think that what Durham needs is this place that's like a community living room."
This idea of offering a "community living room" is what attracted Reusing to The Durham in the first place. "Over the years, we had lots of conversations with different people wanting to do different restaurants in different places, in North Carolina and [elsewhere]," she says. "It never really appealed to me." But The Durham hotel, developed by a group Reusing describes as "of the community" and "doing it for the right reasons," promises a site that tourists and locals alike can enjoy. "We want it to serve that function that hotels have in the past in small towns, where it's the community's space and it's a place that you can go anytime of day and something is happening (or not happening)," she says. "It's a place to check your e-mail and have a really good coffee and watch people."
Durham's food scene has been steadily growing. In the city once known for its textile and tobacco mills, a boom of new, locally-focused restaurants have caught the eyes of major publications like the New York Times and Bon Appétit. The Research Triangle — made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill — continues to produce new and noteworthy restaurants, many of which owe a debt of gratitude to Reusing's pioneering work at Lantern.
"This will not be a Lantern in Durham."
But Reusing is clear that concept-wise, the new 100-seat restaurant "is not going to be a Lantern in Durham." When Eater first spoke to Reusing about her expansion plans in October 2013, the chef stressed The Durham concepts would not be a strict "repeat" of Lantern, noting "it's more fun to do completely new things." Her food plan for the hotel is "still evolving," she says, but the hotel's general manager recently told the News & Observer that "it will not be Asian" (like Lantern) and that "the restaurant will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week and brunch on the weekends; weekday breakfast will only be offered to hotel guests."
Not only are the restaurant and lounge's vague names reflective of what Reusing considers the city's needs, but they also hint at a unified overall experience inside the hybrid hotel/restaurant/rooftop lounge. "We wanted the experience of coming to the hotel to be the same as coming to the restaurant, the same as coming to the bar," she says. Reusing describes a fluidity of experience where the food and beverage can be a "holistic part" of visiting the hotel, "whether you're staying there or just coming for a drink or for a meal." (Along with those two spaces, Reusing is also heading up room service.)
When it comes to the overall design, the hotel is keeping its plans closely guarded. The building itself is known as the Home Savings Bank building, a mid-century modern classic built in the late 1960s. A major feature of the building is the view from its roof, which Reusing explains is unique in the city for its height and placement. "It's really magnificent," she says. With the construction coming together, Reusing shares more details about the 100-seat roof concept, which will feature a mix of indoor and outdoor space. "Part of it will be [year-round]," she explains. "There's all aspects of what you think of as 'rooftop.' There's indoor, then there's outdoor, covered, heated, and then there's [a] totally open-to-nature outdoor balcony around the edge. It's all phases of rooftop."
As she and the hotel operators work towards a spring opening, Reusing has high hopes for the role the hotel and her restaurant and rooftop lounge can play within Durham. "There's no place in Durham to stop off and buy a newspaper," she says. "There's no place in Durham to go if you're a kid to have your first fancy lunch with your grandmother, or go hear some really interesting music that you wouldn't have necessarily heard before. Now, we're not going to have a music venue, but we're going to have this expansive roof where we're going to be able to show movies, we're going to be able to have cultural happenings." Reusing is not the first chef to gamble on a hotel restaurant — big names like David Chang, April Bloomfield, and Roy Choi have all explored this space — but once her two concepts open, her community-focused bet will be put to the Durham test.