One of the oddities about Durham's dining scene is that it defies the expectations you might have if you moved here from, say, Cary or North Raleigh.
South Durham is the fast-growing residential district and RTP, in Durham's southeastern corner, is the economic engine for the entire Triangle. But you find very few notable and noteworthy Bull City local restaurants anywhere in the southern portion of the city (City Beverage stands as one of the singular exceptions.) Of course, you have the steady drumbeat of chain restaurants, but Durham's restauranteurs have shown little interest in setting roots down there.
And why should they? The traditional Durham core, near downtown and Duke -- which is far more socioeconomically diverse and which is a far 'older' set of neighborhoods than the quick-build subdivisions out near Southpoint -- has more fine dining that just about anywhere else in the Triangle. Draw a line between Magnolia Grill and Nana's, then rotate it to draw a circle -- just about all the best places to eat in the Bull City fit right inside.
Uncomfortably outside either of these two spheres of influence stands Starlu on Shannon Road, which announced on Wednesday that it would close its doors effective Dec. 22. While the restaurant's co-owner, Sam Poley, didn't go into details as to the reasons for the closure in his email announcement, his note that it was difficult to fill the space with enough customers suggests location as a critical problem that Starlu couldn't solve. (It certainly wasn't the quality of the food or wine, which drew rave reviews from local restaurant reviewers and residents.)
It also likely didn't help that the biotech company based in Starlu's building, EMD Pharmaceuticals, has essentially shut down its one-time Durham headquarters and laid off most of its employee base, doubtlessly taking a toll on foot traffic. At the same time, University Tower and other office buildings in the South Square area have posted higher-than-normal vacancy rates, with some tenants moving back towards downtown and American Tobacco over the past few years. One also has to wonder whether the final closure of South Square Mall and its reinvention as a Target's/Sam's Club has had any impact on the nature and number of visitors to the area.
Poley hints that this will not be his last foray into the Durham dining scene. Here's hoping for a successful return with a new restaurant -- perhaps in a more successful location.