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COVID-19 Couldn’t Stop These New Restaurants From Opening

Estimated Read Time:
3 minutes

These new Durham restaurants aim to keep you safe and satisfied.

Posted By Amber Watson on Jul 29, 2020

Opening a restaurant is never easy, but opening during a pandemic comes with a whole new set of challenges. Despite it all, there have been a number of ambitious owners opening doors. Here are the latest spring and summer additions.

Featured image by Amber Watson, Bites of Bull City

Just a few days before restaurants and bars were forced to close due to the spread of the coronavirus, Annexe, a funky feminine basement bar, had just opened to the public. Naturally, the shutdown was a devastating blow, but they have been doing their best to carry on in unique ways, including recently opening for dinner hours at partial capacity as well as offering curbside pickup and adult sangria “juice boxes” through their sister bar, Bar Virgile.

The long-awaited Durham Food Hall was just finishing up their construction project in early March when the pandemic became an immediate concern. The Food Hall had to completely change their approach to comply with social distancing and enhanced safety requirements. The silver lining is that they were able to re-design the flow of the space to accommodate a smooth takeout-only process.

Torero’s Mexican Restaurant was already working on restoration following the April 2019 natural gas explosion and had plans to reopen as soon as possible. Though their re-opening date wasn’t postponed, it unfortunately occurred in the midst of a pandemic. They have been doing their best to welcome patrons back and serve the community the full menu of their delicious Mexican eats for dine-in or take out.

Jetplane Coffee, which hosted several successful pop up locations over the past year, was eagerly awaiting the opening of its permanent home at 810 N. Mangum St. when the coronavirus surfaced. Still, they were able to make some quick adjustments for safety and opened for a more socially distanced café and take out. They plan to expand hours and offerings as people venture back to work.

Rockwood Dairy Bar, next door to Nana’s restaurant, began selling pints and quarts of their delicious homemade ice cream right after the pandemic hit, and have since expanded hours and their menu to include ice cream sandwiches, ice cream by the scoop, handspun milkshakes and occasional trendy treats.

The first restaurant tenant is officially open at University Hill's new development. Zambrero has opened their second Southeast location and third in the U.S. (it originated in Australia). With each bowl or burrito purchased, a meal is donated to someone in need through Rise Against Hunger.

A new kind of bar, centered around Kava and other non-alcoholic drinks, has started their opening process in pickup and take out mode in the former Joe Van Gogh space next to Local Yogurt. Da Kine’s Kava Bar is known for its fresh, natural drinks that provide stress relief and relaxation.

A new Vietnamese restaurant opened on the corner of 9th Street this July, and they have a huge patio that is perfect for socially distant dining. Secrets Pho & Noodle Bar serves healthy and casual eats such as pho and noodle soups, banh mi sandwiches, rice plates and stir-fry.

There is little that is more comforting than fresh-baked cookies, and Durham has a newly opened location of Insomnia Cookies downtown on the corner of W. Morgan and W. Main St. with contactless delivery and curbside pickup.

Local taco truck El Jefecito now has a brick and mortar restaurant at 4910 Hillsborough Rd. in North Durham. The restaurant features the same delicious menu as the food truck (still in operation) along with a couple of new menu items.

Along with many restaurants reopening for partial dine-in and continuing to provide their food to-go, some restaurants have revamped and reimagined their offerings, including Saint James Seafood, which is currently operating with curbside and take out as Jimmy’s Dockside To-Go. And some spaces, like Alley Twenty Six, have added a “store,” like Mixers & Mercantile, which is located in their former dining room area. New items are available every week, from made-to-order sandwiches to cocktail syrups.

Coming Soon

Even with the pandemic lingering on, there are still more openings to look forward to. Here are a few places moving forward with plans to open soon. Two Roosters, which has opened two successful ice cream shops in the Triangle, is expanding to Durham and making good progress at its Golden Belt location.

The old County Fare announced it will become a new American fare restaurant after an upgrade and rebranding. Soft opening is planned for late August with a full remodel/rebrand completed by early fall: the space will be called The Honeysuckle at Lakewood.

Beer Study's expansion into the space next door in Durham's Rockwood Plaza is hoping to be completed by August. The Boot Room will serve burgers and BLTs, sandwiches, salads and bowls and will eventually be the perfect place for soccer/futbol fans.

While Boxyard RTP’s shipping container micro-retail hub is on pause, they have been hosting “Cruise Thru” events where people can purchase from the soon-to-open array of vendors, including Fullsteam, Wonderpuff, Bulkogi, and Lawrence Barbecue.

The owners of Bull City Beer and Burger were pumped to introduce their latest concept Bull City Solera and Taproom at 4120 University Drive, but will not open fully as a restaurant/taproom until they can do so safely. In the meantime, they will be offering Bull City Burritos, soft serve ice cream and other treats from the drive thru or walk up window.

A crafty cocktail bar located in a former coffin shop, Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge is brought to you by the duo behind the award-winning Durham Distillery showcasing Conniption Gin cocktails — the name a nod to both the classic cocktail and its former coffin shop residence.

Lastly, Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker — owners of Durham’s wildly successful Kingfisher Cocktail Bar are flipping the concept inside out and introducing QueenBurger in Kingfisher’s backyard in mid-August. QueenBurger will serve “smash burgers” two ways – double stacked beef patties and house-made veggie (vegan) burgers with griddled onions, hoop cheese, Duke’s mayo and pickles — seared to perfection on an outdoor flattop alongside Umstead’s award-winning cocktails: pre-bottled, plus wine and beer. Fifteen percent of profits from QueenBurger will support we are, (working to extend anti-racist education), an anti-racist education organization based in Durham.

Amber Watson is the creator and writer of the local Durham food news blog, Bites of Bull City. For more, follow @bitesofbullcity.

Food Town Documentary

Food Town: Durham, N.C. is a project from Durham-based production company, Markay Media, which also produces the Emmy, James Beard and Peabody award-winning PBS series “A Chef’s Life.” In case you missed it last fall, this half-hour documentary aired on PBS and goes behind the scenes in Durham’s vibrant restaurant community, featuring spots like M Sushi, Pizzeria Toro, and Saltbox Seafood Joint.

Amber Watson is the creator and writer of the local Durham food news blog, Bites of Bull City. For more, follow @bitesofbullcity.com

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Amber Watson is the creator and writer of the local Durham food news blog, Bites of Bull City. For more, follow @bitesofbullcity.