The Suite Life of a Restaurant
The Durham inside The Durham Hotel
Opened: October 2015
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Owner: Gentian Group
Average Check: $55
Description: Contemporary adaptations of “old American” hotel fare, plus rooftop dining.
For Chef Andrea Reusing, her second restaurant undertaking started with a text.
She and Craig Spitzer, the general manager of the soon-to-open Durham Hotel, had a mutual friend who connected the two.
“One of the partners in the project texted me a 1968 picture of when this building was just completed. I’d driven by the building, but seeing it in that context intrigued me, and I immediately responded. I don’t know that I’d ever immediately responded to anyone asking me to look at restaurant space,” Reusing says.
Reusing was no stranger to the Triangle area of North Carolina, with her first restaurant, Lantern, just down the road in Chapel Hill. Over its 15-year history, Lantern has clinched many accolades—including top mentions in publications like Gourmet and Food & Wine—for its Asian-inspired fare that showcases North Carolina ingredients. Reusing is a James Beard Award winner and an early proponent of the farm-to-table movement in the Southeast.
The Durham Hotel was also garnering attention. Converted from a Home Savings Bank, the hotel cum restaurant is one of many structures being revitalized in the heart of Bull City. Commune Design transformed the building into a luxury boutique hotel, sporting a contemporary take on the classic mid-century style.
Shortly after that first communiqué, the Gentian Group, which owns The Durham Hotel, asked Reusing to helm the hotel’s foodservice programming. And so she began collaborating with the Gentian team even before construction was underway. The hotel opened in July 2015 and its restaurant, The Durham, quickly followed in October.
Beyond Reusing’s culinary expertise and restaurant experience, the group also wanted to incorporate her sourcing philosophy into its own operation.
“They were not looking to duplicate a standard hotel experience,” Reusing says. “We don’t have a melon plate on our banquet menus; we do all menus for special events 10 days out so they are totally seasonal. The goal is not an exhaustive hotel menu experience. We’re trying to keep in this specific community of growers, fishers, and ranchers.”
Instead of new American cuisine, Reusing mined the past to create what she calls “old American” dining. The menu highlights early 20th century flavors and recipes from home cooks and restaurant chefs. Dishes like the Buster—North Carolina blue crab soufflé atop a baguette from a local bakery—pays homage to old hotel classics.
In the winter, the restaurant serves a reimagined rouladen, a German classic of bacon, onions, mustard, and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef. Inspired by her own grandparents’ cooking, Reusing mixed up the formula, swapping in new ingredients like paprika and short ribs.
Given these tweaks and fresh iterations, Reusing says the menus at The Durham feature more “fan-based” cuisine than at the Lantern. The new project has also encouraged Reusing to spread her wings into new dayparts (breakfast, brunch) and into new formats.
In addition to the formal dining room downstairs, The Durham Hotel also features a gourmet coffee shop and a rooftop lounge. Located in the lobby, the coffee shop showcases local purveyors like Counter Culture Coffee and Escazú hot chocolate and mochas. Espresso beverages and drip coffee share menu space with teas and specialties like matcha lattes. Reusing says the coffee shop also brews probiotic beverages.
The 3,000-square-foot rooftop bar serves handcrafted cocktails and specialty small plates—without a kitchen. “One of the most exciting challenges was the rooftop menu. There’s no kitchen, just a hot plate,” she says. “I love limitations and that’s one of the really fun parts of setting this all up.”
Those restrictions have yielded inventive menu items: Picnic Eggs with smoked fish; a Red Poll Beef Tartare with anchovy, caper, mustard, and potato crisps; and the Hickory Smoked Carrot Dog. Reusing says the meatless hot dog is a favorite of her children, who are self-professed vegetarians.
Even when the mercury drops, Reusing thinks patrons will still find their way to the rooftop where sparkling wine along with a big bowl of soup and bread will be in order. The rooftop selection runs from about $4 to $12, while raw items like oysters fluctuate based on market price. Downstairs at the restaurant the average check is $55.
As much as Reusing enjoys flexing her creative muscles at The Durham, what she truly relishes is the enhanced community involvement. “As cooks, we stay in the kitchen a lot. It’s good to have events where we’re really engaging, but I also like cooking outside of the four walls of restaurant dining for special gatherings,” she says. “I like the idea of breaking out of the appetizer-entrée-dessert format.”
Just this past October, Reusing and Chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint, also located in Durham, spoke at a local “Plate of the Union” event, calling for a greater focus on food and farm policy. That same month, The Durham played host to author Toni Tipton-Martin, who discussed her book The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. The hotel hosted a special cocktail hour with treats before the event.
“The interesting thing about this for me is how you create really good food for specific events that enhance the event. And together the two things are more than the sum of their parts,” Reusing says.