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On bungalows' history, urban density, and neighborhood change

Res ipsa locavore

Update: Gray Brooks announced on Oct. 9 that the restaurant won't be named "Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain" -- see the comments for more detail.

If it's Wednesday, it's DCVB-press-release-on-a-Pizzeria-Toro-project Day around here.

Partners Cara Stacy, Gray Brooks, and Jay Owens, the team behind downtown Durham’s Pizzeria Toro, have announced plans to open a small, dinner-only restaurant at 110 East Parrish St., formerly home to Monuts Donuts. The opening is projected for winter 2016.

“We’ve been a fan of this space since Monuts was operating out of it,” Brooks said. “We’ve always loved the sort of super small neighborhood restaurants that, somewhat ironically, you only ever really seem to find in really large cities. There a sort of intimacy, a grown-up informality, that it’s hard to get in a large space.”

The team is excited about the small scope of the space. “We’re envisioning maybe 30 to 35 seats, mostly reservation, but with a small bar and food counter that we’ll hold for walk ins. Sort of a cross between a neighborhood restaurant and a date restaurant. We’re not even sure if we’ll have a phone; we may just take reservations by email.

The team plans on naming the restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain”. Brooks explained, “The name comes from an amazing woman who took care of my sisters and me growing up while my mom was at work; basically working for next to nothing during times when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for her. She used to call me Mr. President, until Robert Kennedy was shot. I was two at the time, and she decided that that wasn’t really a safe aspiration to have for me any longer. So she started calling me ‘Captain’ instead.

“She’s the person who taught me how to hit a baseball; she taught me how to collect things. Mostly I think she just taught me how to make a full and rich life out of next to nothing, lessons that I’ve carried with me, and have definitely put into cooking.”

Brooks said they will begin sharing information about the restaurant over the coming months. “Cara says I’m crazy to try to take this on with the Jack Tar taking shape. She’s probably right.”

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I hope both of their new spots will offer some vegan-friendly menu items - downtown needs more of those!


Looking forward to seeing this space transform once again and excited it will remain a restaurant - good luck to all!


Another over-priced restaurant with a contrived name is coming to downtown? How inspiring! I would've rather seen that space become a nice cafe. There's a dearth of good coffee in the downtown loop and all of the good places around town never have enough seating.


That's exciting news! Looking forward to opening day.


bdub -
Don't complain because people aren't tailoring their business to your specific tastes.
Stop providing complaints. Start providing solutions. You can open a cafe just as easily as the next person.



Have you tried to Durham Hotel for coffee? Great coffee, great selection, the barista running the show there came from Driade. And there is plenty of seating in there.


Casey -
"You can open a cafe just as easily as the next commercial developer with deep pockets."

There, I fixed that for you. I'm not looking to dedicate my life to running a coffee shop, but if I did it would be on point.


But is it local?

Brian Hawkins

Hey, if the food is good, I will eat there.

But I probably won't call it that. I mean, really.


"You can open a cafe just as easily as the next restaurant/coffee shop/real estate enthusiast who has worked hard, gained some expertise, developed a business plan, raised some capital and is willing to take the risk on a community/neighborhood that they love and value."

There, I fixed that for you. Like you, I'm not looking to dedicate my life to running a coffee shop, but I can at least admire those hard-working individuals that are willing to make that commitment.


How big is the area that the restaurateurs are allowed to roam free?
It tears at the core of my being the idea of someone just cashing in on a trend like

Bull City Rising

@Natalie: Personally I feel I will need to visit the organic farm where the free-range restaurateurs live to make sure they are truly suitable for my family's enjoyment.


I seriously love the name. At least it's not another unimaginative, "Bull City " name.


@bullcityrising that's cool - they can hold your table while you investigate. Just stay away from the cult leader.


Can't they just call it Mammy's?


Hold the phone--literally, as it turns out, but how is this a "neighborhood restaurant" in any way other than the fact that it is in a neighborhood? Mostly by reservation, only by email, and very small does not exactly scream "Well, I'll just swing by HMWCMC for a quick lunch and 'howdy neighbor!' on my way back home after a jaunt to the post office."


I'm grateful that discussion at the Indy has touched more on the racism of this restaurant's proposed name, and honestly surprised and disappointed that more wasn't made of it here (Aside from hepstyle's comment).


Yes, I agree with Elizabeth that it's problematic that neither in this piece nor in the Indy piece did anyone ask him serious questions about the name, which uncritically celebrates a loaded and painful relationship. Did Hattie Mae have children? If so, i wonder who cared for her children while she cared for him for next to nothing. When his mother had no money to pay her employee, how did her family eat?

Bull City Rising

@Sandi, Elizabeth: The deliberately-chosen title (and accompanying photo) were, I felt, commentary enough -- not wanting to kneecap a local businessman going in a new direction, but also finding some of the choices here curious at best. With all due respect for the locavore pun, I literally did think the thing spoke for itself and didn't require much more explication. (That community conversation is partly what the comments are for, anyway.)

FWIW, Grayson Haver Currin of the Indy has another follow-up with Gray Brooks about the name, in which Brooks gives more context -- and also expresses his openness to changing the name, based on the community reaction that he didn't quite expect.

Carol Henderson

Hattie Mae is a nice old fashioned name. They should consider just using "Hattie Mae's". Political opinions aside, its certainly easier to remember and still honors her.

Sarah Bailey

Wow. After reading some of these comments I don't think I'd ever open up a little coffee shop or restaurant for fear that people would scrutinize it to this degree. Name aside I'm really perplexed by some people hating on the fact that someone is opening a nice small restaurant downtown. But having moved here a couple of years ago from a big city, maybe I'm seen as part of the problem.



There are two particular concerns: racial aspects, which is a very long-standing problem and was inflamed recently, and gentrification.

I'm not sure even naming it "Hattie Mae" would address the first problem, but the current name seriously suffers a problem of making a woman of color's life all about a white man.

John Davis

It's not about a "white man'; it's about a person who wants to pay homage, respect and thanks to someone who contributed to the person he is today. I understand and appreciate that some may feel that there are racial, class or social implications underlying this choice of names. But the motivation of someone who has made a successful investment in the Durham community, who has gained a reputation for superb treatment of his employees, who is extending his local financial commitment and has generously and thoughtfully explained his rationale does not deserve being treated as something that should be voted on by the public.

Bull City Rising

@John: I appreciate Brooks' apparent desire to share something compelling from his life with his customers. On the other hand, when you're in a customer service business, your success is predicated on drawing customers, which is predicated on making them happy. Brooks absolutely has the right to name the restaurant whatever he wants, but a name that sparks controversy is not exactly what makes a restaurant successful. There could have been none of this weird public discussion over the past few weeks, but that wouldn't have stopped some folks from being turned off and not going to the restaurant, potentially.

Speaking of all this, Brooks announced in a Friday press release that he's changed the name:


Open Letter from Gray Brooks regarding the proposed name of his new Durham restaurant:

After listening to the feedback from the Durham community, my fellow owners and I would like everyone to know that we hear their message, and that we take their words and implications to heart. As such, we will not name our new restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams called me captain.”

I was wrong. I want people to know that I know that. To everyone who I offended in any way with the name, please accept this notice as my sincerest apology. The name was indicative of my love for someone I intend to memorialize in my life. She played an important part in making me the person I am today, and she taught me many things – humility chief among them. In my haste to honor her, I failed to consider all of the various aspects and implications inherent in the name. Blinded by my desire to dedicate a slice of my passion, profession, and life to her, I ignored a complicated social dynamic and upset many people.

As a Durham native, I care deeply about this city. I moved my family across the country to return to my roots here, and my business partners followed suit because they saw the same strength in this community about which I had always told them. I have the utmost respect and affection for the people who make Durham what it is. I live here, as do my business partners, and we are investing further in this place. It is important to us and we would never forsake it; we will be more careful and attentive as we grow.

One of the things that I have always loved about this place is the honesty and candor with which this community is willing to take on challenging issues. Much of the conversation around the naming of our new restaurant over the past few days has been difficult for me to hear, but I have taken it all to heart. I appreciate the discourse, the debate, the enlightenment, the education, and the engagement of the community to tell us openly and honestly that we had gone awry; I have learned a lot. I am forever thankful to be in a place so confident, strong, and willing to share.

We look forward to continuing to serve, and give back to, Durham. Thanks to all who make it a special place I am proud to call my home.


Gray Brooks

John Davis

BCR - your feedback is important and appreciated but I think you have, like many others, missed the point. Of course this is a commercial enterprise and of course customer satisfaction is important. But it's also PRIVATE enterprise and whether or not Brooks fully contemplated the reaction of some, he is absolutely free to choose a name that is meaningful to him. I look forward to eating there and those who say they wouldn't because of the (original) name are simply cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Bull City Rising

@John: "[H]e is absolutely free to choose a name that is meaningful to him."

Yes. Yes he is. You might want to re-read sentence 3 of my comment preceding yours, since I 100% agree with you on the freedominess of this all:

"Brooks absolutely has the right to name the restaurant whatever he wants, but a name that sparks controversy is not exactly what makes a restaurant successful."

You're talking about what's within one's rights, and I'm talking about what's within one's self-interests. The two do not always completely overlap.

I think Brooks chose the latter here and it was probably the right call, realistically speaking.

Andrew Edmonds

Fun fact: nine years ago, hundreds of people voted on what logo Rue Cler should use when it opened for business:

John Davis

BCR - one last thought. You frame this as a conflict between rights and self-interests. As a thinking person I prefer not to be forced into either/or, black/white (no pun intended) choices; what about a third way to look at it. What about a grown-up who says I wouldn't have chosen that name and I would prefer another one but I appreciate what Gray is doing, I know his meals will be fantastic and I can't wait for the place, whatever it's called, to open. Let's drop the political correctness and move on.

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