Three Lakewood business owners show us the passion behind their prowess.
Posted By Ashley Strahm
The talent in Lakewood runs deep.
The partners and curators of The Vincent and Ethel Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection have acquired over 300 instruments for visitors to discover — the collection is a testament to a love affair that began in 1965 and has continued ever since. Durham staple Cocoa Cinnamon now has three locations throughout Durham, homegrown by partners Areli and Leon Grodski de Barrera who once peddled their beverages through town on a coffee bike. (Their Lakewood location makes incredible churros in addition to beverages.) These are just a couple of the stories Durham's Lakewood neighborhood has to tell, with owners both reinventing themselves and arriving with new dreams.
On a single morning, our team met with three Lakewood business owners and asked about their passion projects, long-term vision, and excitement for the future.
Sidney Coves, True Flavors Diner
With the well-worn bricks of Durham's historic Davis Building at his back, Sidney dreams.
It's only been 90 days since Sidney's second True Flavors location opened in Lakewood — the first (his baby, he says) is still going strong on NC Highway 55. He already has plans for his third opening in the next few months; a smaller shop serving delectable biscuits and hand-made jams named for his late mother Debbie Lou, now his daughter's namesake. "My daughter was born on the same day my mother passed away," he said. "I gave my daughter my mother's name ... I wanted Debbie Lou to be the story of being reborn."
Rebirth, metamorphosis — it's all a part of the process for Sidney. He's changed the menu four or five times in three months, focusing intently on getting his flavor profiles perfect before moving on to the next phase of this diner repertoire — milkshakes, beverages, and exotic meat dishes. Think gator hash, kangaroo, whole crawfish, and deconstructed parfaits, in addition to his steady offering of the unexpected: watermelon and brown sugar jam, duck fries, and fish and grits.
If you think he's stopping at chicken and waffles, you're wrong.
Sidney has plans for his cuisine to soon be accompanied by mixed drinks, with some inspired by his Haitian heritage and trips downtown to Alley Twenty Six. He wants to make syrups in-house and pack more flavor into each dish, as evidenced by the sweet heat in every bite of his syrupy blueberry waffles and smooth grits. "I want to push the envelopes on diner food," he says. "The goal is to fail often." In fact, that chicken, fried to perfection? The breading consistency was a total mistake, made after running out of the right flour mixture. Sidney's flexibility and adaptation led to the fan favorite — one he says he can't remove from the menu, even if he wanted to.
Maggie Smith, Pine State Flowers
Maggie Smith is in full bloom. Owner of one of Durham's incredible women-led businesses for the last seven years, she's filled the historic Roll's Florist building (a beautiful Durham 1930s bungalow) with petals and leaves and beautiful things, donating bouquets to fundraisers and offering ad hoc assistance to anyone who'd like to make their thumbs a bit more green.
As she stands amongst her carefully curated pots and sprigs, Smith points to the overhead light fixtures that have illuminated the space for decades. "The history of this space is what originally drew me to this place," Maggie says. The beautiful green, wooden, arched door creaks slightly as you open it. She and her employees poke their head around fig leaves and succulents, offering a smile and advice on arrangements. This east Tennessee native and self-taught floral designer is all about the details.
If you've seen blooms in trash cans around downtown Durham in the spring, it's probably a collaboration with Arts in Bloom, which Maggie helps raise awareness for annually. If the beauty she creates isn't captivating enough, fall in love with the value and intentionality behind your purchase. Today, Pine State Flowers is the largest buyer of local flowers in the Triangle, and unlike our national florist industry (80% of flowers in the U.S. are imported from other countries), more than 95% of the flowers used at Pine State Flowers are grown right here in North Carolina. Since 2014, the shop has put over $225,000 into the hands of local farmers.
Victor and Jerre Graham, Rhythms Live Music Hall
Moving and grooving is what Victor has always wanted to do. He and his wife have teamed up to open a new event space right next to the Scrap Exchange and Scrap Thrift, putting themselves squarely in Durham's nightlife scene. From private events to cultural celebrations, Victor has even planned an 'After Work Jazz Series' on Thursdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m., every two weeks. When asked how the party planning has been going, he smiles. "We don't own this. It owns us."
"Folks are looking for live entertainment," Victor says. "We've done feasibility studies, and this venue was built from the stage out because the music has got to be right." It seems like he's thought of everything — eight stalls in the bathrooms ("More than at the movie theatre!" he exclaimed), ten suites for wedding parties, and a handicap accessible stage. He's also thought of events that require a smaller, more intimate space — the hall is convertible for parties that aren't expecting 1100 folks, which is standing capacity. Rhythms can hold up to 640 tables and chairs, as well.
There's still so much on the horizon for Victor, who plans to make sure that one day a week is set aside to teach underprivileged children music in his space. Tributes to The Eagles, Motown and Fleetwood Mac? Gospel brunches? That's all on the schedule. There are plans to go a bit heavier on the comedy front — after all, Sinbad will be making an appearance soon with a funk band in tow — and also to keep rentals coming (there are already three weddings scheduled this fall).
... Those are just three reasons to discover Lakewood the next time you're in town. It's well worth your while.