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Char-Grill to invade Durham, challenging Cook-Out for burger supremacy

Char-Grill is one of those old Raleigh institutions that our friends in the City of Oaks just can't seem to stop talking about. (Literally -- just get a Raleighite to try to shut up about the place. I've tried; it's hard; you probably can't do it.)

Of course, here in Durham, we've had Cook-Out for many years, a Piedmont tradition in which tiny opaque buildings manage to push out an ungodly quantity of cheap, good-quality hamburgers in very fast succession. No, we have no idea how they do it, and we don't really want to.

Yet Durham has remained free from the influence of our Wake County neighbors' institution, with the nearest Char-Grill being a trip to the Beltline away. And, really, who wants to deal with driving there?

Well, the N&O's Sue Stock is reporting that Char-Grill will be coming to the Bull City; her Saturday article reported it was arriving at New Hope Commons, but according to some SoDur watchers, the Char-Grill is actually coming to Hope Valley Commons, the new Harris Teeter-helmed center at the corner of NC 751 and NC 54. (Yeah, we know, the names are confusing. Couldn't someone think of a more original name?)

According to the N&O, the fast-food restaurant will open there in the fall.

We haven't seen the designs of the Durham Char-Grill, but here's hoping to an addition to Durham's architectural inventory that's a little less, er, distinct than the International Style monstrosity over to our southeast:




SoDur reports are correct, the sign for Char-Grill is up at Hope Valley Commons.

Myers Sugg

Welcome Char Grill. My only reservation is that part of the appeal (at least for me) is its nostalgic, albeit dated appearance of the Hillsborough St location. I used to live just up from there, and the building and menu speaks to a different era. Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but is its "better burger" appeal enough to attract folks to the clusterfu---- traffic jammed suburban location at New Hope Commons? I don't know if Hope Valley Commons will be much easier to navigate if in fact that's the final location. Not for me. Lots of other Wake Co businesses have taken a dip in the Durham pool, and pulled back. I know the traffic count would be much less, but how about a Char Grill at the old King's Sandwich shop location? That's the type setting that works for me.....

Michael Bacon

I can't stand Char-Grill. Not that I've ever been there mind you, but, you see, I have my very good reasons.

What's that?

I said I have very good reasons.

Oh, okay.

I have a long-ago ex-girlfriend who really liked it. You understand how these things are.


As far as architecture goes, Char Grill has settled on an in-line shop store concept that makes use of a standard shopping center bay. They are starting to franchise the stores and it is much cheaper to do this than to build a stand alone store. Their most recent store near the Cary Fresh Market on Cary Parkway is like this.

So, they may well have started on it, but it would not be obvious unless they put out a coming soon sign.

If you go to their FAQ page at their franchise site and click a few of the questions, different pictures show up of the Cary Parkway store. IF they were smart, they would just have a direct Link to the pictures, but I sure can;t find one. http://www.chargrillfranchise.com/imgsrcportals122imagesfranchisegif/FrequentlyAskedQuestions/tabid/4389/Default.aspx

Ross Grady

OK, Kevin, I was willing to go lightly & even play along with your last round of Raleigh-baiting, but this attack on the Char-Grill cannot stand. "International Style monstrosity"? Please. I'm guessing you don't like Dorton Arena either?

The Raleigh City Museum thinks enough of the original Char-Grill to include it on the city's comprehensive architectural survey (with two photos, no less): http://www.raleighcitymuseum.org/arch_survey/Phase2/survey.shtml#mid20th

In any case, commenter Lee has it correct: the Hope Valley Char-Grill is gonna be just another storefront in a generic brick stripmall. I guess you get your wish for something that's a "little less distinct[ive]." I was hoping that perhaps Durham could concede "ugly brick stripmall" as primary stylistic identifier to Cary and North Raleigh, but oh well.

There's already a sign up on the side of the building, if you want to drive by & take a look. My favorite part of the half-built stripmall, at least in its current state, is how the backs of the stupid generic 21st-century stripmall-cornice facades are so clearly visible from 751.


Valerie at WLD has the photo: http://we-love-durham.com/news/2008/07/12/char-grill-durham/

Tar Heelz

Eh. A decent burger place. Nothing to get excited about one way or the other. It certainly ain't no Five Guys.

(Heck, the City Beverage in sight of this new Char Grill might make a better burger -- and serve me good beer to wash it down.)

Durham Bull Pen

@ Myers Sugg: Now that I think about it, I certainly agree with you.

The appeal of the Raleigh Char-Grill is at least 50% nostalgia. It's like being transported back several decades, in a good way.

The food is very good, but I wonder it will taste as good from a shiny new store?

Kevin Davis


"Please. I'm guessing you don't like Dorton Arena either?"

Indeed, I think it serves a very useful purpose. When the hundred-foot giants return to walk the Earth and want to play baseball, they can pick it up and use it for a glove.

Seriously, Raleigh's modern architecture has grown on me, and I respect its roots in the NCSU design school. I've seen some beautiful ITB houses designed in this style, and lovingly restored.

But I gotta draw the line at the Char-Grill. I actually picked this photo up from the Raleigh Comprehensive Architectural Survey, which mentions in practically the same breath as noting it an example of the International Style:

"But, Raleigh's public officials and private sector businessmen wavered between being architectural leaders of fashion or remaining followers. They desired the image of the fancy buildings from the large metropolises although toned down and with a little less polish. So, with little exception, the architects and designers, engineers and builders of Raleigh were adept followers, rather than leaders of fashion; they adhered to traditional and popular tastes of the period."

I'll avoid comment so as not to risk further offending our friends to the southeast. :)

Seriously, though, I can't argue with you about strip mall chic being an unfortunate pattern to replicate. It's like Sutton Station down in Southpointyland getting a Golden Leaf Award for beautification significance this year. Unless S.S. replaced a massive automobile junkyard, I'd be hard-pressed to see it as an aesthetic improvement....

Lisa B

Char-Grill is one of the handful of cool things about Raleigh. I'm not a big burger fan, but I like me some Char-grill. The Raleigh location is pretty convenient to where I work, but as far as going to a Durham Char-Grill, I don't think I'd drive all the way to some generic shopping center just to get a hamburger. Maybe if I were already there for something else, but I'd probably get my Char-grill fix on weekdays when I'm close to the cool retro Raleigh location.

Gary T.

The heck with Char-Grill, bring the Roast Grill to Durham. That's where I stop when I'm near the Capitol.


Lisa B., the Char-Grill is located right on the face of HV Commons. You will not be able to resist. :p

Sutton Station is pretty cute. It's not your typical strip. I have high hopes for HV Commons. We'll see, and then I suppose filter it through our particular sensibilities.


Well, I suppose there's one advantage of moving down to Woodcroft...


9th Street needs a Char-Grill. Maybe the old 9th St. active feet building.


There probably are not many graduates of NCSU, UNC or Duke that have not found themselves at the Char Grill on Hillsborough St at 1:30 am waiting for their chilli cheese burger to help sober themselves up. Ahhh good memories.

That's part of the appeal. They also make good burgers and fries. PLUS they are locally owned!!! I'm much rather see a locally owned place go in HV Commons than another Chilis or Applebees. I haven't tried Cook Out, but I would have given them a try if they went in HV Commons instead of the Char.

Kevin, I'm surprised you have such harsh words for Sutton Station. SS promotes mixed use development which most national supporters of sustainable growth try to promote. While it's architecture isn't my style either, I'm glad they at least decided to build up instead of just a one level strip mall.

Kevin Davis

@Tina: I think I have my snark on tonight. :) Seriously, I do like the fact that Sutton Station is a mixed use development. My issue with the Golden Leaf award is just that it's a very non-distinctive complex; somehow the building sizes and angles just don't feel right to me, and the concrete sidewalk around it is so narrow and doesn't feel very walkable.

For all that Southpoint gets criticized, there's no doubt in my mind that the outdoor section encourages you to want to stroll about. At Sutton Station, I feel like I want to drive between buildings, given the lack of landscaping and the sea of parking around it.

So, meh. It's better than what might have gotten built there, but I just wouldn't call it "attractive" is all.

Joe Eater

If Char-Grill does beat Cook Out in the Burger Wars, that'll only leave them about fourth (by my current estimation): http://jhv.blogs.com/eatatjoes/2008/06/durham-burger-d.html

Gary Miller

I love mid-century stuff. So, the Char-Grill building is pretty cool in my book.

As for Sutton Station, strictly as a shopping experience, that place is about as bland and uninviting as could be. From the design of the buildings to the dark tint on the windows, the few times I've gone there I've found myself being drawn to get back in my car and go elsewhere pretty quickly.


I mentioned to DH that Char-Grill was coming and that some people thought it was better than Cookout, and he screamed heresy. Tina, you must try Cookout so you can compare, too.

(The UNC folks I, um, knew always went to Hector's to sober up. Now where's our Durham Hector's??)


Duh, the Durham Hector's is Cosmic. Open later, and better for you.


Duh, I'm not seeing gyros at Cosmic.


New promotion planned for Wake
Raleigh News & Observer (7/15/2008)

RALEIGH - An image makeover is in the works for Wake County.
This morning, the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau will announce a new "brand" intended to promote Wake as "a premier leisure suit destination." The effort includes a new logo, Web site and ads to be used in a marketing campaign.

The event starts at 9 a.m. at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh.

"With the more than $3 billion in development that is taking place in Wake County, we felt that is was important to create a new brand that will consistently communicate the area's most powerful assets to visitors, meeting planners and residents," Denny Edwards, president and CEO of the bureau, said in a statement. "One of our major objectives ... was to position greater Raleigh as the destination of choice for leisure suits in the Southeast."

"When National Geographic described Raleigh as, 'a small capital building surrounded by mayonnaise' we had to take action," he added.

The organization hired three private companies, including two based in Canada, to develop the new logo, design the Web site, create a "brand promise" and conduct research interviews.

The cost for the branding effort so far is $313,332, according to the bureau. The group receives $4.2 million in annual funding from Wake County's hotel occupancy tax and the local tax on prepared foods and beverages.

Lisa B

"a small capital building surrounded by mayonnaise"

Thank you, Valerie. That made my day ;-)


@myers: I would prefer Snoopy's at the King's Shop...along with a club and restaurant district with a lot of street noise. Should be enough brick buffers to protect surrounding neighborhoods.

Chargrill is pretty good but I've been hooked on Cookout since I lived in G'boro. Burgers, fries, shakes, hot dogs, price, etc...great.

I like Wimpy's too...


How does Cookout burgers compare to Wimpy's?


Lisa B., that was "anon" -- the person below me. Kevin, I wish the little line was below the sig. The person who comments after me always seems to say something I wouldn't. :) Not that I don't think the mayo line isn't kinda funny.

Michael Bacon

Cookout burgers are very tasty, and I'd certainly put them in the top 5 in the area, but the Wimpy's burger is just a pure American classic, from the freshly ground beef right down to the floppy bun.

The problem is, Wimpy's can't run with the others, because while you can get a cheeseburger for breakfast, you can't get anything there after 2 PM. So no stave-off-the-beer-stupids food to be had there.


As long as we are talking burgers I should mention it is high time NC repealed the "cook until medium-well" law. It was first passed in the 90s during the Jack-in-the-Box scare; many states have let it lapse, but NC continues this inane tradition of overcooking their burgers.

An exception is granted to places that grind their own meat: Federal and Ted's Montana Grill come to mind. Wimpy's grinds their own meat, but have refused to cook rare burgers for some reason.

Chris B

The "Hope Valley Commons" Char-Grill is as cookie-cutter as they come. The design, a big red brick box, would pass even Cary's standards for monotony.

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