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Posts published in “Life in Durham”

James Beard finalist Ricky Moore on fish fries, army kitchens and his culinary DNA

On a bright Wednesday morning, I headed toward Saltbox Seafood Joint. The restaurant was founded by Chef Ricky Moore, who was recently named a James Beard Award finalist for best chef in the Southeast. 

As I drove down Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard searching for the restaurant, Saltbox’s logo slowly came up on the horizon above a simple letter board sign stating “NC Seafood.” Then Saltbox presented itself, shaped like a shrimp boat and painted an unexpected pastel green color—modern and fresh, like the restaurant itself.

The restaurant wasn’t open for another hour, but Moore popped his head out and greeted me with a big smile, dressed in a hunter green puffer vest and a bucket hat. 

Knotty pine paneling covers the restaurant’s back walls, but we sat in front, where large picture windows take up most of the wall. Moore sat by a small strip of exposed brick, underneath a large poster of his cookbook. 

While we chatted, a young woman rode up in her Jeep and eagerly walked towards the locked door, and then went back to her car to wait. Then another eager pair of customers walked up to the restaurant and, seeing that it was still closed, sat down at the orange and sky blue picnic tables with their eyes on the door. 

Moore is famous for his trademark hush-honeys and for serving up fresh seasonal seafood. I asked him to tell me about how he came to love seafood.

Vanessa Real Williams: What is your first memory of seafood?

Ricky Moore: First memory is going to be family fish fries. It was a very celebratory thing. I mean, it was plentiful shrimp, oysters, flounder, all these other species. And that was part of the culture, the food culture, from a heritage standpoint.

I also like to share this little tidbit about a rite of passage for the younger members of the family: Whole, bone-in fish was a very adult thing. So in order to position yourself in the family as somebody who has become mature, you were offered a whole fish, i.e. a croaker or spot. It was whole, it wasn’t filleted, and you were there to navigate it. If you got choked, then that’s what it was. But obviously nobody was going to pass out or die or anything, and you learn how to navigate that.

And they would give you some sort of cushiony food product, i.e. white sandwich bread, to help push it down. Some of those fin bones right around the collar are very fine. You think you’re eating real good, and all of a sudden [choking sounds]. So now you were traumatized a bit. And depending upon the individual, it would end your career for eating fish with bones in. But some of us powered through it and pushed on.

A lot of people don’t eat fish because of the trauma. “Oh, man, I got choked. No way, I don’t want a bone around, not one.” 

Being in the profession that I’m in, as you move through the craft learning different styles of food, you get to a point where you refer back to your culinary DNA. Some of the best dishes you’ll probably ever eat are dishes that someone grew up eating. They had a reference point, a food memory, and then they brought it forward. For me, I brought those things back up, those memories of eating seafood. So that kind of helped to ignite Saltbox.

I could have done a ton of things, okay? But my original location, it just felt like a little roadside fish joint going towards the beach, where I’m from.

Williams: Did you eat a lot of seafood growing up?

Moore: No, we were traveling in the military. As an army brat, you go everywhere. And some places were not about seafood. I would say I grew up eating country cooking. 

So just like, when you go to France. How many metropolitans are in France? Only one, and that’s Paris. Everything else is rural, and it’s country. So a lot of the— a la terroir, a lot of the cuisine— is country food. Now, obviously, there’s chefs who grew up in those regions, and they really celebrate specific ingredients, and then they put it on a sort of haute cuisine level. But at the end of the day, their reference is what their grandmama cooked. 

So that’s what we eat, too. My mom learned eastern North Carolina country cooking. And it was comforting when you’re away from home.

Williams: When you first decided to go into the military and pursue cooking how did your family react? 

Moore: My father was in the military for 20 years. So, it just felt natural to do it.

I got a scholarship to go to East Carolina University, but I didn’t want to go to college. I wouldn’t have been successful, because of my maturity level. I needed some other activity that would be a bit more hands-on, so I joined the military. Frankly, you get a place to stay, you get clothes, you get allowances, you get a place to eat. I mean, that was the best thing going.

 I chose to be a cook in the military. I said, “You know what? I’m gonna try this.”

You had to cook per the recipe. You had to kind of riff on it, make some adjustments here and there. But still the base was there. That’s where I learned the discipline to follow a recipe. You weren’t supposed to do anything outside of that. Because that’s a regulation. It’s an order. The recipe was an order. And if you didn’t do it, you could get disciplinary action for it.

Part of the morale component in the military was, you got people away from home, in battle. What else do they have to motivate them besides a good, hot meal? It was not about slopping some stuff on a plate. Mashed potatoes with good brown gravy, a nice tender, moist meatloaf, green beans, a hot roll made from scratch—I want to be clear about something, we did not open up a bunch of cans. 

We were charged as the food service department to make sure that we were providing wholesome meals for soldiers. That was our mission. Every component of the unit has a mission, and our mission was to make sure they got three meals a day, served hot and wholesome, and they get as much as they want. Because a lot of people had nothing else to look forward to but that. That allowed me to think, “Wow, I’m effecting change in my fellow soldiers by doing my part here.”

Williams: How did you learn about your James Beard Award nomination?

Moore:  It comes out via Twitter. And, obviously, once that gets put out, then the local news and everybody gets it.

 It’s always good to be recognized by your peers. It’s been a wonderful thing to see the diversity that has been showcased. And I’ve been in the business 30 years, and this is just now happening. 

So, I had a lot of successes in the business. Sure, you get James Beard nominated, cool, that’s good. I just know that I need to always stay grounded. And my goal is to make sure there’s representation, make sure there’s mentorship, make sure there’s people who want to be in this business now. Because now it’s up to people like me who have seniority in this business to create a space in this industry where people feel comfortable. 

But also, it’s a viable career. There’s been a dialogue of it being awful, and not pleasant. When I came into this business, I was really fired up. I wanted to understand the craft of cooking. I’m working hard. I’m working a lot of hours. And any job that you work on requires a lot of hourly activity if you want to be good at it. And a lot of those hours are on your time, that’s the investment in yourself. 

I just don’t want the hospitality business to be looked upon as, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. They work too hard!” I know a lot of tech people who work too hard. I know architects who work too hard.  So, I just want to be a proponent —don’t mislabel the industry that I love. Even when it was bad, even when it was challenging, when there was nobody recognizing me, I enjoy what I do. And that’s a blessing.

Williams: I will admit, I grew up on an island but don’t eat seafood. What’s a good fish to try getting into seafood? 

Moore: I would say go straight to a white, mild, flaky fish, just sort of a neutral taste, not as prominent. You want a nice flounder, or grouper, or white fish.  Frankly, a majority of people are like that. 

Me? I’m the opposite. I like fish with flavor, which means fish that has more oil in it. “Fishy” is the incorrect term. “Fishy” fish is usually bad. That means the quality is bad. In something rich and oily, like mackerel or mullet, or blue fish, even the flesh is dark. But they’re wonderful to eat. 

Now salmon, everybody eats that no problem. But technically, it has the same characteristics in terms of the oil content. We’ve been culturally conditioned from a marketing standpoint to eat salmon. Now if you did the same thing with bluefish, people would be eating more bluefish. 

Williams: Is there anything I forgot to ask you?

Moore: North Carolina fisherfolk. Saltbox would not be if it weren’t for the North Carolina fisherfolk. So, I like to celebrate that. I like to let people know that, hey, we got to celebrate North Carolina seafood, we have to celebrate that heritage, we got to celebrate the idea that this is a resource that we have.

 And there’s more to eat than flounder, shrimp and oysters. Because typically when you go to a lot of seafood places, that’s what they have. And seafood in general is seasonal. Just like you don’t eat strawberries in the wintertime, same thing with fish. Fish move in schools and they move in seasons. You catch certain things at certain times.

Now people come in and they say, “Oh my God, you don’t have this? You don’t have this?”

No. If I’m living up to my brand promise that I serve North Carolina seafood, then I need to serve it seasonally.

Two Durham establishments are finalists for 2022 James Beard Awards: Ricky Moore for Best Chef, Southeast and Alley 26 for Outstanding Bar Program. Cheetie Kumar of the Raleigh restaurant Garland is also a finalist for Best Chef, Southeast. Winners will be announced June 13. 

Above: Chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint. Photo by Simran Prakash — The 9th Street Journal

Local nonprofit promotes inclusion, one cup of coffee at a time

On a bright Sunday afternoon in April, a group ranging from teenagers to people in their 40s, all dressed in black T-shirts and baseball caps, crowded around a coffee stand outside of  Durham Athletic Park. The group served coffee and homemade chocolate chip cookies to people attending a talent show at the park while nearby, their teammates lounged in the sun, exchanged high-fives and danced along to the song “Wannabe” blasting from the loudspeaker.  All were clad in black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “B3 Coffee.” 

By the end of the event, the cash box for the B3 Coffee stand was brimming, and the team had served three large vats of fresh brewed coffee. 

The event was a typical one for B3 Coffee, a nonprofit that hires people with and without mental disabilities and has pop-up coffee events all over the Triangle area. 

B3 began as a partnership with a student organization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has evolved into a mobile coffee business that strives to foster productive working relationships between people with and without mental disabilities.

“I felt that with other organizations, the relationships between people sometimes felt very contrived,” said Jacklyn Googins, the 24-year-old executive director of B3 Coffee. “There can be this kind of patronizing nature to it. I thought that coffee could be a way to create more of an organic space of visibility and belonging for folks that’s really mutually beneficial and something that people freely choose to be a part of and to continue to be a part of just because of the way it enriches their life.” 

The name “B3” represents the company’s values: being, belonging and becoming. 

“We honor diverse ways of being, we create a space where everyone belongs using the way coffee brings people together, and we strive to become better together through inviting diversity to enrich our lives, our workplaces and our communities,” Googins said.  

Googins, Greg Boheler and Hannah Steen, the founding members of B3 Coffee, met as graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through the organization Best Buddies, which focuses on inclusivity and friendship between people with and without mental disabilities. The trio formed B3 Coffee in January 2020, hoping to create an inclusive workspace for people with and without disabilities. 

Googins originally got the idea for B3 Coffee while working at a Starbucks as an undergraduate. She noticed the way that coffee can serve as a common denominator, creating interactions across people who might not otherwise meet. 

“I saw coffee as a conduit for social change and as a way to create connection and really dismantle the stigma that surrounds individual differences,” Googins said. “People are naturally uncomfortable with what they lack exposure to. And that’s especially true when it comes to mental disabilities. If you’ve never interacted with someone with a disability, you’re probably not going to know how to act when you encounter someone with a disability.” 

By hosting pop-ups around the Triangle area, B3 Coffee is working to increase this community exposure. People stumble across the shop on their way to other events, and while they are getting their coffee, they have the chance to learn what B3 Coffee is, interact with its team members and learn a bit more about their experiences.. 

The organization has a nonhierarchical business model that emphasizes equality between team members with and without mental disabilities. 

“You’ll never see anywhere in our branding that we are helping people with mental disabilities or running a charity, because for us, it’s not about charity,” Googins said. “It’s about empowerment and about just providing people a platform to thrive.” 

B3 Coffee has about 50 active team members, around 30 of which are neurodivergent, meaning that they have either intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as autism, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. 

Neurodivergent team members hold positions of power and influence within the company, such as on the management team and on the board of directors. 

“They are in positions and roles of leadership and influence because it’s just really important to us that disabled people are centered in the narrative that we’re portraying,” Googins said. 

B3 Coffee holds pop-ups in various locations around the Triangle area, such as at Brandweins Bagels in Chapel Hill and at the Durham Athletic Park. Laurel Siebrasse, 30, has been a B3 team member for two years. She lived in Durham for a little over a year before moving to Chapel Hill recently. The pop-ups provide her with the perfect reason to visit Durham, she said. 

“I like living in Chapel Hill, but I do miss Durham,” Siebrasse said. “Durham is still my second home, and I know a lot of more people there.  “

Googins said her work with B3 Coffee has deeply influenced her personal development. 

“It’s allowed me to embrace the most authentic version of myself,” Googins said. “When you come into B3, it is a very nonjudgmental space. We really just celebrate everyone for who they are and I just feel unconditionally accepted by all of our team members. I think we all find solidarity with each other.”

Alex Martel, 22, has been the social ambassador for B3 Coffee for almost two years, uploading weekly blogs to the group’s Instagram page. A Chapel Hill resident, he also works at the pop-ups, serving coffee and meeting new people. 

Another team member, Jared Pascarelli, 22, participates in community programming and pop ups. He first got involved with B3 Coffee because his mom, Denise, heard about it through friends and admired the culture.

“As parents, we’re always looking to find ways to improve the quality of life for our kids and there are very limited resources and limited opportunities,” Denise Pascarelli said. “B3 has helped in a lot of different ways. It has a social component, it has a working component—it fills a lot of needs.” 

B3 Coffee has expanded beyond its pop-ups. The organization now has an online community built in response to COVID-19, including weekly Zoom meetings to combat the feeling of isolation many members experienced during the pandemic. 

The group also recently launched Spring classes for its team members. One class focuses on  aspects of a daily routine, such as cooking, cleaning, riding the bus, navigating adult relationships and creating a standard morning and evening schedule. Another focuses on work readiness through resume-building, practicing workplace communication and self-advocacy.

This summer, B3 Coffee will also open a permanent kiosk in the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library, where the organization will offer paid internships to both people with mental disabilities and community allies.

In the future, B3 Coffee hopes to establish an “inclusive business coalition” of businesses in the area that recognize the value of inclusion and diversity in the workplace and are looking to hire B3 Coffee interns after they complete the internship program. 

“I’m excited just to have more established visibility in our community,” Googins said. “One thing we really appreciate is that the library attracts all different kinds of people, so it will really be a hub for community building for us. Those meaningful relationships are really the driver of how we can advance our social impact and just affirm the dignity and worth of people of all abilities.” 

Above: B3 Coffee team members serve drinks and snacks at a recent pop-up event at Durham Athletic Park. Photo by Kathleen Hobson — The 9th Street Journal

Fans cheer the Durham Bulls during home opener, despite the score

Second baseman Isaac Paredes has just struck out to end the game, as the Durham Bulls lose to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. But fans don’t seem upset. They hang around, as the stadium lights dim and fireworks paint the sky. They smile. Heads lean on shoulders. Couples look at each other with shining eyes. Baseball season is back.

A home-opening loss — especially a 7-0 thumping — is nothing to celebrate, but new beginnings are. And that’s what 7,824 fans were doing Tuesday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where they enjoyed a clear, pleasant night that featured lots of energy and entertainment, most of which occurred off the field between innings.

Fans dressed in sumo-wrestler costumes — complete with enormous bellies —  raced along the third-base line. A local celebrity couple led the crowd in song. There were, of course, the usual goofy antics from the team mascot, Wool E. Bull.

Just before the opening pitch, fans watched a squadron of jets fly over the stadium after the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of military men and women. Multicolored confetti floated down into the stands. 

“The major leagues and everything is so expensive. Hockey, baseball, whatever, are so expensive,” said Bart White, a Raleigh resident who has attended Bulls games for decades.  “This — you get a good bang for your buck. They do a great job anytime entertaining between innings. It’s great for families and kids.” 

Before the game, two long security lines stretched from the intersection of Blackwell Street and Jackie Robinson Drive, as hundreds of fans waited to enter the ballpark. Bulls employees ushered fans into the lines as they took photos with Wool E. Bull or waited for the rest of their group to arrive. Food trucks and heavy traffic lined the streets. Pop and country music blared from the speakers. 

College student Ike Perry was among about 50 people in the Bulls team store rifling through baseball caps, Bulls hockey jerseys and other merchandise. Near the stuffed Wool E. Bulls at the back of the store, Perry looked at shirts with his brother as they waited for their father. 

Perry hadn’t been to a game in three years. But his father got their family season tickets this year, so the Wake Forest resident hopes to catch every game. Like White, he was also excited to see that night’s off-field entertainment. 

“They used to get fans to come out and play with sumo suits and fight,” he remembers. He and his brother planned to enjoy hot dogs and beer. They also intended to search for ice cream served in Mason jars — which he remembers as a Bulls specialty.

Inside the stadium, an array of aromas greeted fans. They could buy virtually every kind of carnival food — cotton candy, funnel cakes, wings, hot dogs, pretzels, IPAs. As White’s friend, Tom Holmes, purchased an IPA, he said he was feeling “pretty damn confident. Their team is called the Jumbo Shrimp. We can beat the Shrimp.”

The Jumbo Shrimp apparently thought otherwise. In the first inning, outfielder Peyton Burdick slammed a solo home run. The game unraveled for the Bulls in the second inning, when Bulls starter Adrian De Horta and reliever Zack Erwin combined to allow two walks, three singles and a double as the Shrimp rocketed to a 6-0 lead. All after two outs.

“I mean, for us, it was trying to get to the fifth inning. Just with our starters — we don’t really have any starters right now,” Bulls manager Brady Williams said after the game. 

At the same time, Jacksonville starter Max Meyer pitched five hitless innings. The Bulls would finish the game with only two hits. 

Williams said the team has little experience together, with players arriving from other teams as late as last Sunday, April 3. 

“There’s things we’re going to do as far as team get-togethers or just trying to get to know each other as quick as we can,” Williams said.  “Once it happens, the chemistry will get better.”

Even after the game got away from the Bulls, the crowd stayed. Beginning in the top of the fifth,  fans started clapping when every Jacksonville player came to bat. The Jumbo Shrimp would score only one run the rest of the game. Maybe the fans should have used that tactic earlier.  

The Bulls, off to a 2-5 start, have five more games in their series with the Jumbo Shrimp at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park before traveling to Norfolk, Va., for their second road series. Last year, with an 86-44 record, the Bulls won their third Triple-A championship. The Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and last season, Durham’s best players moved up to play for the American League club. 

This year, the Bulls will play 150 games, instead of the 130 they played last season.

“Hopefully, we can continue to do what we’ve done over the last couple of years, which has been a lot of fun,” Williams says. The manager says he expects his team to improve and contend again for a championship.

 “Those are our goals every single season,” he said.

Above: Photo of the Durham Bulls’ home opener by Bill Adair — The 9th Street Journal

Durham School of the Arts may move to northern Durham

Durham School of the Arts is grappling with the choice between holding onto history and beginning a new era. 

The arts magnet school,  a fixture in downtown Durham since 1995,  has been a source of pride in Durham for years. Now it may be relocating to a new campus in northern Durham. 

That has left parents and community members with lots of unanswered questions.

Jeannine Sato, a DSA parent and PTSA volunteer, has been active with the school for two years. She supports the move and funding a new campus for DSA but says that parents she has spoken with have mixed feelings about the relocation.

“Part of the charm of DSA is its history, its location in downtown, and its connection to a lot of the arts downtown,” she said. “But I do have concerns about how we could safely renovate it with students in session.

“It just seems logistically challenging, very expensive, and there will probably be lots of unforeseen challenges. Building a campus seems like the most logical solution.”

Others, such as Karalyn Colopy, a DSA parent and Trinity Park resident, favor keeping DSA right where it is. 

 “I love that there’s a school in downtown Durham,” she said. “It would be a big loss if we lost a school campus right in the heart of the city.”

The current sprawling campus of eight buildings stretches across three blocks of Durham, housing 1,655 students from grades 6 to 12. The school boasts rigorous academics in addition to a focus on visual and performing arts.    

The campus, previously home to Durham High School, includes some buildings built in 1922. Durham High was struggling in the 1990s, before DSA opened in 1995. DSA transformed the campus into a vibrant school attended by students from around the county, who gain entrance to the arts magnet school through a lottery system.  

The concept of a new campus for DSA has been under discussion for some time. The county provided design and discovery funds for the project in early 2021. In May of 2021, the school board hired a third party to assess the viability of the current DSA campus. The consultant concluded that the campus was not adequate to house a school of the arts.

The Board of Education decided in October to pursue funding for a new DSA campus in northern Durham County and submitted the proposal to the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners will decide this month whether or not to include the new DSA building as part of an upcoming fall bond referendum.

If funding for the new campus is approved by the county commissioners, Durham residents will have the opportunity to vote on funding for DSA as part of the proposed bond referendum on November 8. 

If approved, the Board of Education anticipates that construction will begin in June 2023. They hope that the campus will be completed by May 2025. 

The proposed location for the new campus, a 58 acre-site on Duke Homestead Road, was purchased in 2010 from Duke University. Unlike the current campus, it is isolated from major thoroughfares and provides opportunity for future expansion, said Julius Monk, deputy superintendent of operational services for Durham Public Schools.

In a February 23 Board of Education meeting, Fredrick Davis, director of capital construction and planning for the Durham school system, highlighted the historical significance of the current campus, but also pointed to flaws with the building.“The current structure limits the class sizes, limits natural light and really does not lend itself to the modernizations that we need in order to attract the best and brightest,” he said.

Sato also cited several structural and maintenance issues with the campus, including electricity outages. “There are definitely some basement classrooms that feel like a dark dungeon,” she said.

 In a recent interview, Monk highlighted accessibility issues with the current campus, and the age of the building. He also raised concerns about the size of the campus , explaining that DSA was designed for about 1,200-1,400 students. 

 Parents and administrators are also concerned about the traffic generated by the school’s location on two major thoroughfares. Traffic backups often cause significant bottlenecks through the campus and into the city streets beyond, inconveniencing drivers and posing a danger to schoolchildren, some said. 

 Natalie Beyer, a Board of Education member, said new North Carolina Department of Transportation regulations would require the entire car line to remain on the DSA campus and not overflow out into the roadways. “That site is landlocked and there’s not a possibility for us to afford more land or close city streets,” she said. “Those roads are major arteries.”

Beyer stressed the importance of receiving input from the community throughout the relocation process. She says as soon as the board knows if the county has approved funding for the new school, the school board will revisit the issue and welcome public comment.

A big concern shared by parents and community members is what will happen to the current DSA buildings if the school moves. 

Allen Wilcox is a Trinity Park resident who lives one block away from the current DSA campus. He says DSA has been a source of pride for his neighborhood. 

“I just hope that the old buildings are used in a way that still benefits the community,” he said. 

Both Beyer and Monk said that the board is considering moving New Tech High School, which currently shares a campus with Hillside High School, to the current DSA campus. 

As Hillside expands, Monk says, “it’s becoming harder to run both of those programs on the same campus.” 

New Tech High School has a student population of only 285 students. Given that, Monk said the current DSA location could also potentially accommodate central office space or student testing facilities. 

Colopy wants reassurance that the older DSA buildings will be preserved if the school moves to a new location.

“We don’t have that much history here in Durham,” Colopy said. “This is our history and what makes us Durham.”

Above: Photos of Durham School of the Arts by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal 

As Durham buildings fall to the wrecking ball, a Facebook community gathers to watch, vent and question

​​Addy Cozart’s first post to “The Teardowns of Durham” Facebook group features a series of emojis: angry, sad, crying. 

“My block @ Hillsborough and Rutherford has been sold,” the Feb. 21 post says. “Final day to move out March 4th. The buyers are developers. I’m assuming more apartments will go up.…” 

The comments came rolling in, mostly sympathetic, some angry and indignant.

Cozart’s is just one of the emotional posts that litter the walls of The Teardowns of Durham, an open Facebook group that focuses on pictures and information relevant to Durham’s changing housing landscape.

This is a place of solidarity: with over 3,500 members and counting, the group includes posts about hundreds of buildings that have been torn down, housing justice activism and new, expensive housing in the area. Though the active member count is much smaller, the Facebook group is a public page for a reason: it’s a place for free information. And with about 50 posts per month in the group, and many more comments on each, there’s much to be informed about.

The Teardowns of Durham is partly just what it sounds like — a Facebook group about buildings that have been or are being torn down. But it has also become a forum where locals discuss how Durham is changing and shifting, where new developments are coming and which buildings they once recognized are coming down. 

The active discussion reflects Durham’s housing crisis: in the first three months of 2021, about 2,400 homes were sold in Raleigh and Durham. Of those, more than half were bought either by people from out of state or companies, according to a report from the Triangle Business Journal. According to WRAL, 20% of homes in Durham have been purchased by investors in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 11% in second quarter 2020. 

Durham housing prices and property taxes also have increased, making it harder for newcomers to buy and for residents to stay. Meanwhile, though Durham has made efforts to create rent relief programs, the demand for housing remains high, and housing stocks are low.

The Facebook group began as a way to exchange information among a small group of Durham friends and colleagues. It has now ballooned to include thousands of members, from Duke students to Durhamites who have been here since childhood. 

There’s a catharsis that runs through each post about a demolished Durham building — a need to tell someone about the frustration at losing a property. A recent post by David Becker is typical of many.

“Big beautiful place on the corner of Gregson and Club was there yesterday when I drove by. This morning….gone,” Becker writes. Much of the frustration aired on the Facebook group reflects worries about losing Durham’s personality, including historic buildings that are dispersed throughout the city. Durham has 15 historic neighborhoods that are listed as National Register Historic Districts. In addition to the Facebook group, other activists and preservationist groups include Open Durham, Historic Preservation Society of Durham and Preservation Durham.

Frequent poster Chris Jay notes that a homeowner refurbished an old home to make it an “weekend getaway” out in Narrowsburg, New York.

“Imagine if all the old homes in Durham that are getting torn down were revitalized and brought back to life to their original classic design, including decor,” Jay says. “That’s what this woman did!”

Another commentator echoes Jay’s sentiment.

“I’m sad we are losing so much of Durham’s history,” the post says. “When someone’s lived here all their life, the changes seem so overwhelming… not always a good thing.”

Some posters on the Facebook group push back, arguing that romanticizing old houses will not make Durham more affordable, and will not stop gentrification.

The posts that consistently get substantial interactions, though? Questions. Many users in the Facebook group wonder what is happening to Durham’s warehouse district, around the corner from Fullsteam Brewery and The Accordion, where commercial buildings are being torn down on Geer Street. Another poster supplies a partial answer, responding that a Washington D.C. developer plans to create two large apartment complexes called GeerHouse.

One user laments the teardown of one home replaced by four modern tiny homes on Pritchard Place, near North Carolina Central University. Another user shares a tip: she heard that a century-old Pentecostal church in West Durham is being sold. Responses flood in. The overtone of the conversation: will the church be torn down? 

Concerned Durhamites started the Teardowns of Durham Facebook group in May 2019, when the pace of construction and demolition around Durham was ramping up in neighborhoods including Trinity Park, Braggtown, Watts-Hillandale, Campus Hills and more. 

In part, the group fills an information gap. Local journalism has been declining in most places in the country, including in Durham, and there are fewer local news sources to keep Durhamites informed about their changing city.  

That is a major reason why Ellen Dagenhart, who previously served as president of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham, joined the Facebook group in September 2019.

“The few remaining reporters just can’t be at every meeting where so much of the sausage is brought up and made,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of mischief happening that is under the radar now. Teardowns is filling a void, a need, for a place where people can share, learn, question, vent.”

Bonita Green was born and raised in Durham. She left Durham for South Florida in 1999, and when she returned in 2012

, she didn’t recognize the city she loved.  Now, she lives in the Merrick-Moore Community and works with the Merrick-Moore Community Development Organization. Fed up with the rapid development, she has used the Teardowns group to air her frustrations, she said in a recent interview.

“I saw all the development in my community and the acres of land that the city bought on the West side of Durham. So I had a fear of being washed out. I was fighting to protect the legacy of this community,” Green said.

For people like Green, the Facebook group has become more than a place to simply share news and vent. It has also become a site of political organization and mobilization. There are almost as many petitions in the group as pictures of bulldozed buildings.  

Urban planner and Durham resident Nate Baker said the petitions and political activism of the group tell a greater story: they reflect many Durhamites’ desire for control over the housing situation in their city. He believes Durham residents are not necessarily resistant to change, as long as they are included in the process.

“I think people have anxiety about the world changing around them and not really having much of a say in the matter,” Baker said. “There hasn’t been robust community engagement and planning processes to alleviate some people’s concerns over teardowns.”

He says the city could make changes, like building more affordable housing complexes, that would make Durham’s residents feel more empowered.

Dagenhart, the member who joined the Facebook group in 2019, said the Facebook group is also a place where residents can talk about their aspirations for what Durham could be. She recalled the joyous ceremony that took place in 2011, when ​​more than 2,000 citizens took vows to “Marry Durham,” promising to protect the city and its reputation and to honor its diversity.

“I think Durham is in need of some marriage counseling,” Dagenhart said.

Above: The South Bank building downtown is among many Durham buildings undergoing demolition to make way for new construction. Photo by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal

Mulch, fertilizer and 108 years: garden business has a new address, but a time-honored approach

Step inside, and you’ll feel like you’ve been teleported back to the 1920s. 

Racks of fertilizer and seed line the aisles. An assortment of gardening hats lies directly in front of the entrance. Step into a smaller side room, and the bags of mulch are impossible to miss. Locally owned stores like this one are not as common anymore, but don’t tell that to George Davis, the owner of Stone Brothers & Byrd. 

On a recent Friday, Davis, wearing a classic gardener’s hat, was helping customers left and right. Even after 46 years of ownership, his dedication is still evident.

“I think ’91 was the last farm mechanic that I had, and that was the end of that,” Davis said. “So from ’90-’91 to the present, we’ve been lawn and garden.” 

For 108 years, Stone Brothers has been a staple of the Durham community, providing gardening resources to local farmers and families. From Moss Out! to Cardinal food, from flower pots to gardening gloves, Stone Brothers could always be relied upon, and that’s not about to change. 

What has changed, though, is where that reliability can be found.

For over 50 years, Stone Brothers sat at 700 Washington Street, where the business and its longtime location became intertwined. 

But in line with recent development trends in Durham and the Triangle region, that’s changing. Last May, Beacon Street Development announced it had bought the land from Stone Brothers and laid out plans to build a seven-story complex with 40 luxury condos. With construction set to begin this month on The George, named for Davis, Stone Brothers has moved down to 937 Washington Street, a two-minute drive from its previous spot.

The new development is one of several changes coming to a historic section of the city. Just across from the Durham Athletic Park—the 1926 ball field where the baseball movie “Bull Durham” was filmed in the 1980s—the land is on the corner of West Geer and Washington, with longtime Durham staples like King’s Sandwich Shop just up the road. 

Neighboring businesses say they’ll miss Stone Brothers. The Durham Distillery, for instance, relies on Stone Brothers for the molasses for its liqueurs. 

“Now we have to walk a little bit further,” said Josh Dixon, the distillery’s marketing coordinator. 

Meanwhile, Durham Distillery is also facing a second development in its backyard, a six-story mixed-use project headed by Florida-based Ram Realty Advisors. Right behind the distillery, a train trestle butts up against the loading dock, with enough space for backdoor deliveries. But not for long.  

“This new building that is coming in will be building a retaining wall where that train trestle is,” Dixon said. “As it currently stands, that retaining wall will keep us from being able to use our loading dock. Which means that we’re going to have to figure out our entire operation.” 

That’s disappointing, Dixon said. 

“The spirit of Durham has always been about caring for each other, giving to each other. This parking-land agreement, those agreements have been just historically such a big part of being a small business owner in the Durham area.”

Still another condo project is in the works a few blocks down Geer Street. Dixon is concerned that so much development may disrupt the character of the neighborhood.

“The people who’ve been here, who’ve been traditional Durhamites, are being pushed out,” Dixon said.

Some of Stone Brothers’ former neighbors, though, are philosophical about the changes. 

Bill Whittington owns the Blue Note Grill, across the street from Stone Brothers’ old location.

“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t want to be down here,” Whittington said. “There was nothing going on, very little business, just buildings and warehouses or industrial-type stuff.”

Stone Brothers did not go too far—since Feb. 26, it has been in its new location further north on Washington Street—but it still occupies a different space for the first time in decades

Davis, who has been the sole active owner of Stone Brothers since he and a few family members bought the business in 1976, said he had a lot on his plate with the move.

“It was a lot of planning,” said Davis. “My right arm came up here and laid out a bunch of displays, had done measuring down [at the old location] then came up and measured spots up here…. We started a month ago moving warehouse merchandise ourselves.” 

Debbie Swanner has been shopping at Stone Brothers since the 1980s. On a recent Friday, she was in the store searching for starter plants for her flower bed.“You don’t have to buy everything packaged up, you can say, ‘I want an ounce of cucumber seeds,’ and if you have a small garden, that’s great,” she said. 

Swanner sees pluses to the store’s spacious new location. 

“If you have a garden center, you need sun to put your plants out for people to look at it,” she said. 

Davis also sees some benefits from the move.

“We sort of have more parking space, which we think will aid our customers quite a bit,” he said. 

Davis doesn’t envision any changes to the mission of the business. Being able to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of customers is “what keeps us going,” he said.

Fertilizer to seed. Avid gardeners to families simply looking for some outdoor supplies. It might have packed up and moved down the road, but 108 years later, Stone Brothers keeps on keeping on. 

 

Above: George Davis has owned and managed of Stone Brothers & Byrd since 1976. Outside Stone Brothers’ former location, signs reflect the former business and the new condos that are coming. Immediately above, a customer browses in Stone Brothers’ new store. Photos by Milena Ozernova — The 9th Street Journal 

Oysters, aguachile and resilience at the newly reopened Saint James

The table settings at Saint James Seafood are the first sign it’s a special place: a blue striped cloth napkin and a paper menu with cheeky illustrations – a claw nabbing a cherry from a cocktail glass, a fish with sexy lady legs, and a shark tanning on a beach inside a bottle. 

The Main Street restaurant promises “quality seafood” and “reasonably good times” and says that it’s been open “off and on since 2017.”

Less than two years after Saint James first opened, a deadly gas explosion in April 2019 forced the restaurant to close. The building was condemned and Matt Kelly, the chef and owner, didn’t know when his business could reopen. “I was stressing out about it. The debt was piling up. It was awful,” he said. “Also, like, I’m a chef. I’m pretty risk averse … but I was committed on reopening for some reason. And we did it.”

Saint James resumed operations in January 2020 only to shut down 39 days later because of the pandemic. For a brief stint in 2020, the restaurant launched a takeout joint called Jimmy’s Dockside. It reopened on Feb. 2, 2022.

Kelly said that Saint James was able to stay in business because of the federal Paycheck Protection Program grants distributed during the pandemic. 

“We, of course, want to have high-end service and high-end cuisine, and we aspire to greatness,” said John Quintal, Saint James’s general manager. “But at the end of the day, we have been closed twice due to things beyond our control and all you can really do is laugh.”

Kelly draws inspiration from classic coastal dishes. The menu features Calabash-style fried seafood, raw oysters and Juan’s aguachile. Kelly is also one of the owners of Durham restaurants Vin Rouge, Mothers & Sons and Mateo.

“When I open a restaurant, it’s a way to explore a culture,” Kelly said.

Kelly, 46, started as a dishwasher. He remembers buying $80 cookbooks, hungry to learn how to cook. Since then, he’s fallen in love with different food cultures and become one of the most prominent restaurateurs in Durham. 

Recently, Kelly has been working the raw bar at Saint James, named after the patron saint of shellfish and the hospital founded by Kelly’s family. Most dinner guests don’t suspect the owner is the bearded guy wearing overalls and shucking oysters. 

For Kelly, oysters are special because they demand simplicity. “Oysters are full of umami, good flavor, salt. They don’t need anything,” Kelly said. His menu allows less flashy ingredients to stand out, too – like the fries. Kelly starts with Idaho russet potatoes, which are then brined in vinegar, fried, and tossed with old bay seasoning.

Before Kelly bought the place, it was a seafood restaurant called Fishmonger’s for 34 years. He had been wanting to open a seafood restaurant – as is evidenced by his prolific personal collection of oyster plates, which now adorn the wall behind the hostess stand.

The place is warm but eclectic. He left the original black-and-white tile flooring from the site’s former life as a car dealership. The bluefin swordfish hanging above the main dining room, however, is a more recent addition, as are the glass buoy lighting fixtures, portholes and bright yellow bar stools that allude to a fisherman’s slicker. In the second-floor dining room (a.k.a the Captain’s Quarters) is a mural of a giant octopus crushing a ship. 

Quintal said Kelly is “definitely an artist.” “This is his vision – the food, the building, the design, the art. He’s just got a keen eye.”

Above: Customers return to the reopened Saint James, where chef Matt Kelly works the oyster bar. Photos by Julianna Rennie and Milena Ozernova – The 9th Street Journal 

A Durham Moment: “We just roll on. That’s how it works.”

Story by Nicole Kagan, photos by Kulsoom Rizavi 

Major the Bull, a 10-foot, 2,500-pound, bronze statue who watches over downtown Durham from his brick pedestal, is a symbol of strength, power and pride. And, on Fat Tuesday, he dons a bright pink tulle tutu around his waist. 

Hanging around Major’s neck is a yellow, green and purple sign made out of duct tape. “Happy Mardi Gras,” it reads. He stands frozen, waiting for the celebration to begin. 

The sound is faint at first, but when the parade of krewes rounds the corner onto the plaza at 6 p.m., a symphony of trumpets, drums, tubas and trombones bursts through the air.

People flood into the square, turning it into a dancing sea of colors and sparkles.

An older gentleman frolics around in a pink leotard, tutu, tights and bright red lipstick, his shoulder-length gray hair gelled back behind his ears. Little kids run past him weighed down by dozens of beaded necklaces, sequined headbands and feather boas. At sudden intervals, the kids break out in cartwheels. 

Some people have made their own outfits for the celebration. One woman is completely hidden under a crow costume on which she glued hundreds of black feathers. Another is barely visible behind a multicolored, papier-mache dragon head. 

Others join the festivities in street clothes, beaming when fellow decked-out participants offer up handfuls of beaded necklaces. 

At the center of the crowd are the Bulltown Strutters, who have run the event for over a decade. They lead the now-packed plaza in glorious renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Second Line.” 

Kelley Grogan, a member of the krewe, marches around in a green wig carrying a sign that says “strut with us.” Her husband bangs on the drums a few feet away. Grogan’s never been to New Orleans, and this is her first Durham Mardi Gras, but she’s quite sure it won’t be her last.

“The camaraderie is amazing,” she shouts over the trumpets. “Everyone is just letting loose.”

In front of her, adults and children alike skip and hop around in circles, stomping on the bricks while they pump signs in the air. 

One little boy with reflective sunglasses climbs up onto a stool and, gripping his silver harmonica with both hands, plays a unique version of what might be “Piano Man” before star-jumping back to the ground. 

Other krewes include the Tic Tac Teauxs, the Krewe of Mischief and the Society of the Sacred Bull. 

The last, a krewe of neighborhood kids from Trinity Park, shows up with a float made of painted wood and cardboard. It’s dripping in beaded necklaces, stocked with half a dozen King Cakes and has been signed by all of the krewe’s members for the last seven years. Its wear is starting to show.

“We’re probably gonna lose a wheel tonight,” says Walt Barron, one of the krewe’s adult leaders. “But we just roll on. That’s how it works.”

After a half hour of dancing, singing and twirling about in the plaza, the Bulltown Strutters decide it’s time to begin the procession down to the Blue Note Grill, where the celebration will continue into the night.

The music stops momentarily while the musicians gather their instruments and props and prepare to leave. Then after just a few seconds, a man in a chicken suit, carrying a massive tuba, shouts “NEXT SONG!” and the Strutters oblige, starting up again with “When the Saints” as they make their way down Foster Street. 

Above: Scenes from Mardi Gras, Bull City-style. Photos by Kulsoom Rizavi – 9th Street Journal 

Two years into the pandemic, live music venues hope for better times ahead

In October, Bill Whittington, owner of Durham’s Blue Note Grill, was eagerly awaiting a performance by singer-songwriter Darrell Scott. The show was slated for Thursday, Oct. 21 and  had been promoted on Blue Note’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Yet a week before the show, hardly any tickets had been sold. In the midst of the Omicron wave, the venue made a joint decision with Scott to cancel the show. 

“It was frustrating,” Whittington said. “Things were picking back up, and we were looking towards normal again. Then September and October came along and numbers went back down like 50%.”

Jeremy Roth, founder of Motorco in downtown Durham, agrees.

“Things started to seem normal again, and then Omicron hit,” Roth said. “It was almost like we were starting from scratch.” 

The Darrell Scott show has since been rescheduled for April 28 at Blue Note, and Whittington is hoping for a strong turnout. But the moving puzzle pieces of canceled shows and rescheduled dates are among the many challenges new COVID variants present for Blue Note and other Durham music venues. Although wary of yet another wave, venue owners are hopeful that as COVID cases diminish, Durham residents will feel comfortable going to concerts again. 

Pre-pandemic, Motorco expected one in 10 ticket holders not to show up for a concert. The pandemic brought dramatic changes. 

First the club simply went silent. Large gatherings were not permitted because of government regulations and customers wanted to stay home, anyway. When Bully, an American rock band, took the stage at Motorco on August 23, 2021, it was the first time the venue held a live performance since March 2020. Yet only 64% of ticket holders showed up to the event.

Mdou Moctar, a Tuareg singer and musician, took the stage on September 5, 2021 expecting a full house. His show had practically sold out, yet he was met by applause from only 74% of those who had purchased tickets.  

Then came the Omicron variant. At Motorco and other venues, many fall shows were cancelled because artists feared COVID or ticket sales were too low. Roth, Motorco’s owner, says it’s difficult to put a number on lost profits. “Obviously it’s better for folks to buy tickets and not show up than not buy tickets at all, ” he said.

It’s not just about ticket sales, though. When ticket holders don’t show up, Motorco loses a significant portion of potential bar sales, the club’s primary source of income from concerts. At Mdou Moctar’s concert, no-shows meant that the club lost a quarter of its potential revenue, Roth said. 

“The artists get the money from the tickets,” Roth said. “In order for us to be a business and pay rent, we make money from the bar.” 

In addition to its concert showroom, Motorco has a separate restaurant and bar that allows the business to make additional income. Blue Note Grill also has a restaurant. Whittington said his business would not have survived the pandemic without the additional profit. 

Tim Walter, director of The Fruit, pointed out that most music venues in Durham are either supported by the city or have a restaurant. For venues that rely solely on live performances for their revenue, the second shutdown due to Omicron prolonged financial troubles. 

“Live music in Durham as a stand-alone proposition is a money-losing operation in the best of times,” Walter said. 

As a result of the pandemic, The Fruit is now carrying 50% more debt. If 2022 doesn’t pick up as many business owners hope, the Fruit could face double the debt burden the club carried before COVID. This potential increase in debt would add three to four thousand dollars to the club’s monthly overhead, Walter said. 

“We’re a social enterprise,” Walter said. “We’re just trying to break even.”

Now, as Omicron cases  slow, music venues are focused on moving forward with pandemic precautions in mind. Tritonal, an American DJ duo, recently performed at The Fruit. The show sold out at the last minute, but Walter was disappointed nonetheless. 

“It should have sold out a week in advance,” he said. “When I start to see that happening, then I’ll say we’re back. But I don’t think that will happen in 2022.”

Venues in the Triangle vary in their COVID regulations. Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, one of the Triangle’s venerable music venues, requires that concertgoers show either proof of vaccination or a professionally administered negative test within 72 hours of the show date. However, such requirements present an additional burden on venues, said Cat’s Cradle owner Frank Heath.

“It’s very time-consuming and intensive because everyone shows up at the same time,” Heath said. “We’re doing our best to get people through the doors as quickly as possible.”

Motorco has similar precautions in place. The club requires temperature checks, vaccination checks and  masks. Since its restaurant provides a secondary source of income, Motorco can afford to lose some concert customers who refuse to get vaccinated or choose not to wear a mask, says Roth. 

Many venues in Durham are not as strict. The Fruit does not have these regulations, for instance.  Walter said the Fruit cannot afford to lose business from customers who have abstained from getting vaccinated or prefer not to wear a mask. 

Early in the pandemic, the venue required proof of vaccination and checked temperatures at the door. They revised these regulations when Omicron came around. 

It’s easy for patrons to fake vaccination cards, Walter said. With that in mind, and given the area’s relatively high vaccination rates, the venue decided to let individuals monitor their own risk. Now, the venue leaves it up to concert-goers to determine if they want to mask or social distance. 

Coming out of the pandemic, many venue owners are more conservative in how they view revenue sources. 

“The money we make off of ticket sales, I now treat that like it’s fake money until we settle the show,” Roth said. 

Some venue owners said the demand for live music has diminished coming out of the recent Omicron surge. Durham residents still seem apprehensive about entering crowded indoor spaces, Walter said. 

“Folks are just out of the habit of going out,”  he said. 

Others noted that public demand for live events mirrors news coverage of COVID. 

“As soon as the newspapers say there’s a lull in the current wave, a lot of people start going to shows who aren’t worried about spreading the virus,” Heath said. 

Venue owners are trying to remain flexible in an ever-evolving situation. Many are finding people are willing to pay higher prices for tickets. Bands have capitalized on pent-up demand and are charging more to perform. 

“Shows that were $15 dollars are now $20,” Heath said. He believes it will stay this way until the demand no longer allows for increased ticket prices.

Club owners also face staffing difficulties, in part because many workers can make more money working remotely than working onsite at a venue, Heath said. 

Blue Note Grill has had similar staffing shortages and is working on automating its serving and payment processes to supplement the lack of servers. 

“We’re rethinking how we serve the customers, so one server can handle more tables,” Whittington said. 

Venues remain wary of another shutdown. Heath said that if ticket sales pick up for the rest of the academic year, it will be a promising sign that things can return to pre-pandemic levels. 

“It’s hard to feel extremely optimistic until we have a month where nothing crazy happened,” he said. “I’m hoping that April will be that month.”   

But the threat of another variant shutdown still looms, making many venue owners cautiously optimistic. 

“I’m not sure what the next Greek letter is after Omicron,” Roth said. “But personally, I’m thinking about that.”

Above: Customers are returning to some live music venues, such as Durham’s Blue Note Grill. Photo by Milena Ozernova – 9th Street Journal 

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Black entrepreneurs on doing business in Durham today

Durham has long been a beacon of Black entrepreneurship. The nation’s second-oldest African American bank, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance, once America’s largest Black-owned and -operated life insurance company, were both located on West Parrish Street, helping the street earn the byname “Black Wall Street.” In the early 20th century, Booker T. Washington praised Durham for its Black enterprise, while W. E. B. DuBois hailed “The Upbuilding of Black Durham.” Black-owned businesses struggled in the late 20th century due to factors including integration and urban renewal, which razed much of the Hayti community. In recent years, however, Black entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the Bull City. With this history in mind, we spoke to founders of three Durham Black-owned businesses about their journeys.

Celebrating Black literary traditions

When Beverley Makhubele and Naledi Yaziyo opened Rofhiwa Book Café in May 2021, they filled a perceived gap in the East Durham community. 

“What I think had been lacking was places to exchange ideas that are focused upon particularly Black literary traditions,” said Yaziyo, Rofhiwa’s curator and a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at Duke. 

Rofhiwa means “we have been given/blessed” in Tshivenda, a language spoken by the Venda people of South Africa. With an expansive selection of books by Black authors, foreign and domestically published, as well as hot and cold drinks and a welcoming seating area for customers to read and work, Rofhiwa has built an environment for customers to relax, read and discuss Black literature. 

The two South African entrepreneurs carry “a very global selection” but face constraints due to limited printing runs of books printed outside the United States. As a result, the store may hold just one copy of a given book at a time.

“Sometimes it means we traveled to South Africa and packed books in a suitcase to bring back to the store,” Yaziyo said. “We have to make do with what we have.” 

Makhubele and Yaziyo launched Rofhiwa using crowdfunding, raising over $40,000 on Kickstarter with an average donation of around $15. 

“Like most young Black entrepreneurs, we were not in a position to approach a bank for a loan,” Makhubele said. “We don’t come from independently wealthy families. Crowdfunding was an obvious option.” 

The store is “Black in the way that we think about our selection, the way that we choose our selection and how we would go about seeking community partnerships and vendors,” Makhubele said. The two were conscious of this message when searching for their storefront’s location, Makhubele said. “We knew it had to be a Black neighborhood.”

“It was important for us to make a thing in a place that was and felt like home,” said Makhubele, a Durham resident of six years. “East Durham is home.” 

Makhubele is also excited and inspired by Durham’s Black businesses. 

“I think the most fascinating thing to me about this moment for Black business in Durham is seeing young entrepreneurs being bold enough to start businesses that are not necessarily traditional, or that are not necessarily addressing an emergent need but are more leisure-focused, that are more interested in putting together different things,” Makhubele said. “I find it very exciting to watch young entrepreneurs introduce these very interesting and creative concepts to the Durham market.”

The co-founders are eager to achieve more as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Naledi and I are very interested in the different ways that we can use our space, not just for literature, but how the space can become a more dynamic one for the arts, for music, for live performance, for all kinds of things,” Makhubele said. Makhubele hopes to continue “building it up with good bones, enough that someone might look at it and say, ‘something’s happening in East Durham, and that’s worth my time.’”

Remembering Durham’s Black business history 

Downtown Durham’s North Carolina Mutual building serves as a physical reminder of the city’s vibrant history of Black entrepreneurship. North Carolina Mutual is shutting down this year after some 123 years in business. But for decades it was a pillar of American Black business.

Seeking to uphold and add to this legacy, Carl Webb co-founded Provident1898 in 2019 with co-founder Peter Cvelich. Provident, a Black-centric shared workspace for innovators and entrepreneurs, occupies a 15,000 square-foot facility on the concourse level of the historic Mutual Tower. Provident1898’s name pays homage to NC Mutual, which was founded in 1898 and was originally called NC Mutual and Provident Association. 

“Let’s look at what [NC Mutual] did 120, almost 125 years ago, and how we can use that as a way to be inspired for what the next generation can do,” Webb said. “We wanted to provide some progressive and positive ways of building the community, similar to the founders of NC Mutual.”

Reminders of Durham’s rich history of Black businesses line Provident’s walls. The original sign from the entrance to Durham’s Royal Ice Cream Parlor—where the Royal Ice Cream sit-in took place in 1957, more than two years before the famous Greensboro sit-in—hangs prominently in Provident’s lounge. Provident’s conference rooms are named for Durham’s Black leaders, including John Merrick, the founder of NC Mutual, Charles Clinton Spaulding, who presided over NC Mutual for several decades and Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore, Durham’s first Black doctor and a leader of the Hayti community.

Provident offers offices, desks, meeting rooms and a lounge to both small businesses and solopreneurs. Provident’s partners include non-profits like the Durham Public Schools Foundation and profit making businesses like Hayti, a Black news media app. 

Webb has spent almost 40 years as an entrepreneur in marketing communications and urban development. Cvelich has also spent much of his career in urban planning. 

The endeavor has special resonance for Webb, a Durham native.

“Being in a community where I’ve had the benefit of seeing Black entrepreneurs and business people accomplish significant things, I never quite felt like it was a stretch to want to start a business,” Webb said. “I saw the people starting businesses, so those role models and examples were really, really helpful for me very, very, very early on.”

Webb is optimistic about the young business. 

“We are committed to doing the work, and the hope is that the market will find what we’re offering to be something that’s worthy of support,” he said. “I’m encouraged that the indication so far says yes, but it’s not going to be easy.” 

Webb is hopeful for the future of Black business in Durham more broadly, too. Webb sees progress with the North Carolina IDEA Fund, the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce and other similar organizations. Still, he says, obstacles remain.

“The real question is, what will the stakeholders and leaders, both public and private, do about closing the opportunity gap?” Webb said. “We need to continue to focus on shared economic prosperity, and we, as a community, can’t sustain by having such a huge gap between the haves and have-nots.” 

 

Serving up fusion cuisine 

In 2015, Toriano Fredericks was working on an offshore oil drillship, serving long stints at sea. That year, he and his wife, Serena Fredericks, launched their Boricua Soul food truck, which serves Latino-Soul fusion cuisine, and operated it during Toriano Fredericks’ four-week breaks between trips. 

“For a couple of years, we ran the truck and tested our concept while still having a day job, essentially,” Toriano said.

In 2018, he left his job to operate the truck full-time.

In November 2019, the Fredericks opened a storefront in the center of the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham. Named for the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico, Boricua pairs the Fredericks’ Puerto Rican and Georgian grandmothers’ love of cooking with dishes like barbecue empanadas or chicharrones de pollo, a Puerto Rican-style fried chicken dish. 

Boricua’s large patio, half-open kitchen and indoor murals commemorating Durham’s history give the restaurant a communal feel. Toriano and Serena work front-and-center, across all open hours, bringing food from the kitchen to Boricua’s customers. 

Showcasing other Black-owned businesses is a priority for the Fredericks. Boricua has collaborated with or purchased goods from Black-owned Pine Knot Farm, Spaceway Brewing and Shoe Crazy Wines. Throughout the year, the Fredericks feature other Black-owned businesses on their social media. 

Less than five months after they opened their storefront, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the couple to temporarily shut down the business. Despite its welcoming indoor space, Boricua has not offered indoor dining since before the pandemic.

“We opened the restaurant going into a slow period going into the winter and then COVID hits, so we really didn’t ever have a chance to get a feel of the landscape,” Toriano Fredericks said.

“I think the fact that we don’t have restaurant experience has helped in a way because we just aren’t sure how anything should be done,” he said. “So we’re just constantly trying things out and being open-minded to them.”

Support from the Durham community has been the only constant for the Fredericks since opening in 2019, they said. That support instills optimism about the future of their business – cautious optimism, that is. While Durham’s recent growth has brought more customers, rent rates have increased. Meanwhile, COVID-19 led to labor shortages. 

“I’d like to be able to execute what we said we were going to do with the menu when we opened up,” Serena Fredericks said. “We haven’t been able to really add things to our menu just because of labor difficulties.” 

Emerging from the pandemic, the Fredericks hope to make Boricua Soul a community staple. Said Toriano Fredericks, “That ability to gather and have people come together is something we’re definitely looking forward to doing again, or doing at all.”

Above: Photos of Beverley Makhubele and Naledi Yaziyo, co-owners of Rofhiwa Book Cafe, by 9th Street Journal photographer Simran Prakash.  Photos of Carl Webb and Peter Clevich of Provident1898 and Toriano Fredericks of Boricua Soul by 9th Street Journal photographer Kulsoom Rizavi.