James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Love Letter to Durham, NC’s Beyù Caffè

A Love Letter to Durham, NC’s Beyù Caffè

Buttermilk Biscuit in Durham, N.C.

Although I’ve lived in Durham for nearly three years, I always seem to get turned around when I enter the downtown. It’s a patchwork of one-way streets that curve and cross with little logic. At one point, the roads finally converge into an intersection called Five Points, where some of Durham’s first businesses set up shop.

Like many students at Duke University, I lived barely a mile from the downtown during my first year of college, yet I rarely made the trip there. But I walked to Beyù Caffè—which now occupies one of the coveted storefronts on Five Points—on a weekend after I’d spent 48 hours flat on my back with the flu, at that point looking for any excuse to get out of bed.

Although it was the dead of February, Beyù was unusually lively that morning. Later, it would hold a public discussion with the rapper Talib Kweli. The dining area was busy with preparation as the usual brunch crowd shuffled through. I hung by the bar and tentatively sipped a black coffee. From my position inside, I could look out onto Five Points, a reminder, however altered from its original state, of the city’s early history.

Over a century ago, Durham was an industrial center as well as a rare hub for black businesses in the South, before a period of decline in the 20th century. Beyù Caffè opened in 2009, at a time when Durham was just beginning to become a destination for new development. The restaurant’s distinguishing feature is its business model, as a brunch spot by day and jazz club by night; inside, musicians rub arms with young professionals working up the street. Its menu features classic Southern comfort food alongside vegan sandwiches.

I settled on a simple option for that first meal, a scratch-made biscuit topped with egg and cheese. On future visits I’d become more adventurous with my choices. I came to realize, after seeing the restaurant in each of its guises, that Beyù’s role as a community center is just as important as the food it serves.

Living on a campus that too easily isolates itself from the surrounding city, Beyù became, for me, an important link with the discussions shaping downtown in a time when many black residents and businesses have expressed fears of being pushed out of the city’s center. When I spoke with Dorian Bolden, the owner of Beyù, a few months after my first visit, he prided his restaurant on its potential to bring people together amid those fears. To Bolden, diversity is good for community.

Beyù Caffè
341 W Main Street
Durham, NC 27701

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