Mad Hatter's has been a Durham institution for years over at the corner of W. Main & Broad St.; the one-time corner gas station was converted to a bakery-cafe and cake shop when the Hatter moved from Erwin Square into the old Owens Broad St. Diner space in 2001.
And its owners have had a big impact on the local community -- most notably when co-owner Grace Nordhoff decided last year to donate $200,000 as an endowment for the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, the university's outreach program targeting community engagement and support.
They've been active in less-obvious ways, too, as a meet-up point during bike-to-work events, a participant in countless fundraisers and non-profit events, and so much more.
All good things come to an end, though, including Nordhoff and Jason Balius' ownership of the eatery. They've announced the sale of Mad Hatter's to none other than the owner of Saladelia here in the Bull City.
Balius noted on Thursday that there was interest from national chains and franchisees, due doubtlessly to the presence of nearby Duke and the prime location between downtown and Ninth Street. (It's not hard to imagine the spectre of a PaneraCosiAtlantaBreadBakeryShoppe taking over the stately old building.)
True to their community roots, though, Balius and Nordhoff decided to keep it a local affair. "We wanted to keep it as kind of a community space," Balius said in a brief interview on Thursday, noting he wanted the business to continue to "support local artists, local growers."
The transition isn't due to cafe business, but personal business instead. Nordhoff is relocating to her home in Seattle, while Balius is moving to Florida to pursue new ventures.
Balius thanked the community for the support they'd had during their tenure in Durham, a run that for Nordhoff includes undergraduate days at Duke (class of '82) and her ownership stake in the venture since the early 1990s. (One-time co-owner and founder Jeff Fried passed away in 2001.)
"I hope we have exceeded expectations and have given back to the community," Balius said.
Mad Hatter's took some lumps this year from listservs and blog comments, this site included, for restricting laptop use, though Balius noted the business had invested heavily in adding dozens of power outlets, only to have customers crowd seats for hours nursing a cup of coffee. (Balius noted it was one of the more frustrating experiences in his years in the restaurant business.) Yet nothing should overshadow the years of excellence Nordhoff, Fried and Balius put into the local institution.
Saladelia owner Robert Ghanem could not be reached for comment late Thursday; we'll give an update for the local cafe's plans for the space when available. Ghanem's company is also expanding into American Tobacco in the old Starbucks space; reports put the opening for the new cafe and grab-and-go site as being "imminent."