A Longtime Caterer Returns to Her Restaurant Roots
While some chefs explode onto the dining scene fairly early in their careers, Chef Coleen Speaks’ emergence into the spotlight has been more of a slow burn. Speaks has been in the industry since she was 15 and over the years has cut her teeth at such noteworthy establishments as Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA Restaurant, Raleigh, North Carolina’s Bloomsbury Bistro, and Ashley Christensen’s Enoteca Vin. In 2007, Speaks developed her own catering company, PoshNosh, which served seasonal, locally sourced, and restaurant-quality creations for swanky soirées and Southern weddings.
But it wasn’t until last fall that Speaks truly started to receive the recognition she deserved: The St. Louis native opened a bar-café, Hummingbird, alongside her new event space, Whitaker & Atlantic. “I’ve been doing great food in this town for a really long time,” she says, “but it wasn’t until I opened a storefront that it seemed to matter.”
Located in Raleigh’s Dock 1053 warehouse, Hummingbird takes its name from the space’s defining characteristics; it’s tiny, efficient, and beautiful—kind of like a hummingbird, Speaks says. The restaurant seats 12 at its marble bar and lunch counter at the front of the restaurant. It also features a small Portrait Room with 14 seats, as well as newly built patio that brings the seating capacity to 75. On especially busy nights, Speaks uses Whitaker & Atlantic’s space next door as a private dining room.
“When I found this space, it made sense to open this small-plates restaurant, because it’s a really cozy interior,” Speaks says. The all-day bar and café serves three distinct dayparts with their own dedicated food and drink menus. Breakfast features fresh-squeezed juices, coffee, and even boozy coffee cocktails alongside pastries like cinnamon sugar ricotta fritters and butterscotch sticky buns.
For lunch, diners can enjoy sandwiches like the Muffuletta and Po’ Boy—harkening back to Speaks’ time in New Orleans during and after college—along with salads and session cocktails such as the Aperol Spritz.
During dinner, hot and cold small plates take center stage with items like pickled shrimp, charbroiled oysters, Cajun-style gumbo, and buttermilk-fried quail leading the way. Dessert includes showstoppers like the Soyer au Champagne, a coupe filled with local vanilla ice cream, Champagne, Luxardo, brandy, Cointreau, and brandied cherries. Snacks such as togarashi and seaweed Japanese Popcorn and Apple Brandy Chicken Liver Paté are also available throughout the day.
While Hummingbird carefully curates its lineup of wine and Champagne, its craft cocktails are the real stars of the beverage show. Designed with an intentionally feminine touch and emphasis on floral flavors, the cocktail menu features a long list of house-made, tea-infused liquors, including blackberry tea gin, mango tea scotch, and peach tea tequila. Its signature cocktail, the Hummingbird Fizz, is made with hibiscus tea vodka, lime, and Peychaud’s bitters.
“Before opening, my husband was like, ‘You’re building out a space for the ladies,’” Speaks says. “He’s kind of right, and I’m OK with that because where there are women, men will follow. And women are usually the ones that dictate where they’re going for their date nights.”
Speaks says Hummingbird’s cozy space and small-bites menu does attract its fair share of couples, as well as groups of women who enjoy the café for its ladies’ night potential. The restaurant sees an average lunch check of $12–$15, as well as an average dinner check of $35. “There’s something for everyone on the menu,” Speaks says. “There are $4 menu items and $14 or $15 menu items. But somewhere in there, there’s something for the gluten-free, the vegetarian, and the meat lover.”
With three very distinct operations now under her belt, Speaks is dedicated to growing them rather than expanding her portfolio with others. “Finding my balance between these three businesses and how they can all work together was all part of the design,” she adds. “The event space was to fuel the catering company, and the storefront really helped get my name out there.”