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48 Hours Exploring Durham’s Black-Owned Gems

Want to explore Durham's Black-owned businesses but only have two days? Our guide has you covered.

Posted By Ayana Hernandez on May 31, 2024

Durham. Bull City. DUR.HAM. However you reference the city, you must put some respect on its name. Dipped in a historical baptism that includes lauded firsts such as Black Wall Street and North Carolina Central University in the Hayti District, the soul of the South beats through Durham. the city's heritage beams with Black history. Parrish Street’s Black Wall Street still salutes the pioneers who set the standard for creating and generating wealth, modeled in black communities nationwide.

Durham is home to the second oldest minority-owned bank in the United States—Mechanics and Farmers (M&F Bank)—and North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company, once known as one of the world's most prominent African American businesses. The same entrepreneurial spirit is alive today through Black-owned businesses and establishments—there’s no surprise they thrive on the city's rich soil. Supporting and investing in Black-owned businesses is part of Durham’s DNA.

From the moment visitors arrive, they are cared for by Durhamites (Durham natives and those who claim the city as their new home) as they explore spaces and places that embody the city’s contemporary swagger and its renowned soul. The birthplace of legends like the First Lady of Gospel Shirley Caesar, the late fashion icon and Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley and heralded football star and painter Ernie Barnes, the City of Medicine is home to Grammy award-winning jazz greats Branford Marsalis and Nnenna Freelon. Durham’s authentic, unpretentious signature swag is real.

A group of people sit outside in lawn chairs at Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast.

Explore all that Durham's Black community has to share. Photo: Morehead Manor / Discover Durham

Journey to a place filled with a flavorful mix of Southern charm and impressive attractions—a destination that will leave you exhausted and refreshed all at once. Durham sets the stage for creating a travel itinerary for those who aren’t afraid to explore, lean in and lean back. So, pace yourself and explore with this curated two-day experience showcasing the best of Durham’s Black cultural attractions, businesses and eateries.

Top Tier Accommodations: Check In

Book a stay at Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast, owned by Monica and Daniel Edwards. This Colonial-style residence prides itself on being one of only a handful of Black-owned and operated bed and breakfasts in the country. The charming one-suite, four-bedroom inn is more than meets the eye and is situated adjacent to downtown Durham in the West End neighborhood. Whether it's a staycation, romantic getaway or well-needed woosah time with girlfriends, it's the ideal spot. Choose from the amenities menu which includes relaxing spa treatments; all stays include a full breakfast.

The beautiful Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast in Durham sits tranquil in the sunlight.

Enjoy a tranquil stay at Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast. Photo: Morehead Manor / Discover Durham

Day One:

9 a.m. - Brunch It Up

Set It off with breakfast or brunch at owner and executive chef Zuri Hester’s Nzinga’s Kitchen in the historic Hayti District or Sidney Coves' True Flavors Diner in South Durham. The mouthwatering menus that range from the breakfast croissant sandwiches at Nzinga’s to peach butter French toast and cheesy skillet potatoes at True Flavors, along with generously sized portions at both eateries, will have you scheduling your return visit.

11:30 a.m. – HBCU Excellence

On the sloping hills and verdant green of North Carolina Central University in the Hayti community, seeds were planted in 1910 by pharmacist, businessman and educator Dr. James E. Shepard to establish the historically Black university that now boasts a student population of 8,000 students. It is home to rich cultural assets, including the newly renovated NCCU Museum of Art and an award-winning jazz studies program.

NCCU annually hosts the “Ultimate Homecoming Experience,” a time each fall when thousands of alumni and friends return home for a week filled with concerts, a step show, football game, tailgating and other activities. Pick up your NCCU gear at Eagleland, a local licensed NCCU retailer blocks away from the university.

Take note: Visit in April and catch the annual NCCU Jazz Festival featuring some of the greatest prominent jazz artists, composers and musicians; several events are free.

Plants surround the main sign on North Carolina Central University's campus.

Walk the campus at North Carolina Central University. Photo: Discover Durham

1 p.m. - Delicious Delicacies

A Durham staple whose name doesn’t tell the whole story is Chicken Hut on Fayetteville Street. Not only does the over 60-year-old, family-owned establishment cook up arguably some of the best fried chicken in town, but its menu also boasts weekly specials like fried fish, meatloaf and neck bones.

3 p.m. - Shop Small. Buy Black. Spend Green.

Small businesses thrive throughout Durham, from a local candle company and bookstore to custom men’s wear brands and an African clothing and accessories store.

Based in Durham but distributed widely online, Bright Black. is a locally owned candle brand founded by Tiffany Griffin and Dariel Heron. Their handcrafted scents hit the perfect notes with powerful messages that leave their impact, like Resist, the Diaspora Collection, the Genres Collection honoring Black musicians and the infamous Durham candle with hints of tobacco and cotton. Shop the collections and join a scentmaking workshop or community event at the Lakewood District studio.

Book Lovers: The Rofhiwa Book Café on Driver Street in East Durham should be on your list. Along with a wide selection of works by Black authors, you can enjoy a beverage in the café.

Hands hold one of Bright Black Candles' signature products, the Durham Candle.

Get yourself a Durham candle at Bright Black Candles. Photo: Discover Durham

Get a quick lesson in sartorial science and haberdashery at Jada’s Men’s Accessories, a specialty men's shop on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., (a few doors down from Saltbox Seafood Joint) that offers unique combinations that complement men’s suits—from cufflinks and ties to pocket squares—along with other items. Husband-and-wife team James and Wendy Abrams' passion for making their customers stand out has made fans and models out of local newscasters, athletes and business executives.

Browsing through Exotique Boutique, housed on downtown’s Main Street, is like shopping at a local artisan market curated by owners Yemi and Lola Olufolabi. The shop’s products hail from African countries—from handbags and dresses to sculptures, soaps and crafts—and beautifully showcase the talent of craftspersons whose work is equally delicate and detailed.

6 p.m. - It's Fish Friday

Saltbox Seafood Joint, created by Best Chef-Southeast by the James Beard Foundation, Chef Ricky Moore fries and blackens the freshest local catch from coastal North Carolina. The famed casual spot with outdoor seating notes "Menu Changes Daily," so expect a great-tasting new seafood treat each visit.

Get some of the best seafood in town at Saltbox. Photo: Discover Durham

Diasporic Deliciousness: Durham serves up a host of culinary choices, and the diversity of the African diaspora is alive and flourishing in the Bull City, thanks to two Brightleaf-area restaurants whose dishes are native to the continent of Africa. Fasil Tesfaye and Zewditu Zewdie created Goorsha's, which features Ethiopian cuisine favorites like sambusas, tibs and wot paired with the handcrafted cocktail of your choice.

A newly relocated and reopened Zweli’s in Brightleaf Square by owners Zweli and Leonardo Williams offers authentic Zimbabwean dishes and isn't shy in delivering flavor on flavor with piri piri (a peppered spice used for many dishes native to southern African countries), leading many dishes along with a wide variety of offerings including the popular dovi collards.

A shrimp kebab sits surrounded by other delicious sides from Zweli's in Durham.

Experience the wonderful flavors at Zweli's. Photo: Discover Durham

9:30 p.m. - Grab a Nightcap

Hop over to Proximity Brewing Company, which opened in early 2024. Its brewmaster, Mike Potter, has taken the success of the annual Blacktoberfest Beer Fest and bottled it into a permanent location in East Durham. No matter your palate for beer, Proximity also partners with local breweries to deliver on taste and variety.

Day Two

9 a.m. - Rise and Shine

See and hear up-close Durham points of interest that highlight the city’s rich African American history. Aya Shabu’s Whistle Stop Tours takes visitors to areas of historical significance throughout the city’s Hayti District and Black Wall Street and West End areas and brings the stories and figures from history to life through dance and performances.

Whistlestop Tours's Aya Shabu poses in front of one of Durham's Civil Rights Murals.

Join Aya Shabu on a tour to learn more about Durham's history. Photo: Aya Shabu / Discover Durham

11 a.m. - Artistically Original

Durham’s roots are still being watered, nurturing the cultural relevance of this unique North Carolina enclave. A must-see stop is the Ella West Gallery on Black Wall Street. The Parrish Street gallery displays an array of Black artists’ works that range from the late legendary Ernie Barnes and North Carolina artists Stephen Hayes and Clarence Heyward to locals Kennedi Carter and Maya Freelon. While you're there, check out the Black Wall Street historical marker at the intersection of West Parrish and North Mangum streets.

Art on the walls and hanging from the ceiling in a gallery. Art by Maya Freelon and Sachi Rome

Step into Ella West Gallery for a true art appreciation experience. Photo: McKenzie Shelton, Embody Media & Design / Ella West Gallery

12 p.m. - Craveable Classics

Waffles fluff up differently at the flagship location of Dame's Chicken & Waffles on Foster Street across from Central Park. Home to one of three locations in the Triangle and Triad, chef and owner Damian Moore's waffles, crispy fried chicken and flavorful homemade smears satisfy their customers, making them ‘almost famous,’ as the merch says.

Barbeque is synonymous with the Tarheel state (pick your sauce wisely), and award-winning grillmaster and pitmaster Mike De Los Santos has smoked his way to the top by producing some of the most praised ribs, brisket and turkey in the business. Mike D’s BBQ Smokehouse and Retail sits in the champion’s circle with its one-two knockout punch of delicately smoked meats and specialty blended spices and sauce combinations. Visit him on Driver Street in East Durham. Thank us later.

A customer waits to dig into a plate of pulled pork, mac n' cheese and potato salad from Mike D's.

Mike D's is a must-visit for all barbecue lovers. Photo: Discover Durham

1 p.m. - History Lives

Learn about Durham's earliest history with a tour at the Historic Stagville State Historic Site. The site has done a beautiful job of centering the lives and experiences of the enslaved people who lived there, and offers genealogy research for ancestors. You can read a firsthand account of a visit on our blog written by journalist Ronny Maye.

If you'd like to stay downtown, stop by the Museum of Durham History for interactive exhibits about Durham's history.

4 p.m. - Sweet Spots

Durham isn’t just known for its restaurants; those who want to appease their sweet tooth travel for hours for a taste of the good life served up by three Durham bakers. Your day will be made even sweeter with the signature red velvet cake and various cupcake varieties at Keijuane Hester’s Favor Desserts, an endless assortment of melt-in-your-mouth made-from-scratch cookies from Ashleigh Ratchford at Ashleigh Bakes, available at retailers around Durham, or a layered delight nicknamed Black Wall Street or other one-of-a-kind bakery creations from Lydia Ricks of Bull City Bake Shop.

6 p.m. - Gastronomic Goodness

Choosing between the brunch, lunch and dinner menus at Lula & Sadie’s, a newer kid on the restaurant block in the Lakewood neighborhood, isn’t easy. Whatever you choose, you’ll find a flavor flex that makes Chef Harry S. Monds’ years of experience apparent. The architectural landmark the restaurant sits in, a former baking company, is part of the appeal. The grownup dishes, including the smoked duck gumbo and BBQ shrimp and grits, are the real winners.

9 p.m. - The Turn Up

Missy Lane’s Assembly Room owner Cicely Mitchell is no stranger to trendsetting in Durham. She and trumpeter Al Strong started the Art of Cool Festival in the city back in 2013 and welcomed new music artists like Anderson.Paak of Silk Sonic, The Internet and North Carolina native Rapsody, among others. Her latest venture, Missy Lane’s Assembly Room on Main Street, feel like a nod to the Harlem Renaissance, the iconic Cotton Club and Lenox Lounge, where live jazz music lives and draws crowds for performances from local and national artists.

A pianist plays under blue lights for a crowd at Missy Lane's Assembly Room in Durham.

Check out some live music at Missy Lane's Assembly Room. Photo: Chris Charles

Associations Matter. Congress Social Bar is the quintessential connecting and networking spot that features local live bands, musicians and DJs in East Durham. The bar hosts cigar socials, Sunday brunches and other specialty events that are open to the public.

Planning Your Return to the Bull City?

Support small farmers and other black businesses at Black Farmers Market, held bimonthly at Durham Technical Community College annually from April through October. From crafts to collards, the market provides locals and others a direct way to support local produce and other merchants. Find other annual events celebrating Black history and culture to plan your trip around.

About the Author

Ayana Hernandez - Freelance Writer

A Nutmeg State (Connecticut) native and Tar Heel State transplant, Ayana Davis Hernandez is a lifelong storyteller whose career began in magazine publishing. She is a senior communications and marketing strategist who enjoys her Bull City community's beauty and cultural offerings.