Pitmaster eyeing Durham for possible BBQ restaurant

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 01:41 PM

BBQ in Durham: Pitmaster Ed Mitchell, a native of the eastern North Carolina city of Wilson who specializes in pit-cooked, whole-hog barbecue, wants to launch a restaurant in Durham.

Mitchell was a former partner in The Pit, a barbecue restaurant in Raleigh that is part of the Empire Eats restaurants, although he parted ways with the company to pursue his own ventures the spring of 2011.

Now the Raleigh-based developer behind the real estate company Empire Properties and the Empire Eats restaurant group is planning to open a second location of The Pit in Durham, but Mitchell is not part of those plans.

Instead, Mitchell said he’s planning to open his own venture with his son Ryan.

“I’m glad to be relocating in Durham,” Mitchell said. “This is a foodie town, that’s who I am.”

Mitchell was at the Bull City Food & Beer Experience, a showcase of local food and craft beer held at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Sunday. He was sampling craft beer that he said he might be able to sell at a new venue in the Bull City.

“I can openly express my desire, and my willingness, to come to Durham to launch my restaurant,” Mitchell said in a follow-up interview. “I have selected that area as the location that I would like to restart.”

Multiple sources indicated that Mitchell is looking at the American Tobacco area downtown as a potential location for a new eatery.

Mitchell said in the follow-up interview that he could not confirm or deny that information.

The public relations firm for American Tobacco sent the following emailed statement: “We also take due diligence very seriously, and make it a point not to comment on any project until that process is complete.”

A call to an official at Capitol Broadcasting, the Raleigh-based company that owns American Tobacco, was not returned.

Capitol Broadcasting also owns the Durham Bulls baseball team and WRAL-TV, and is behind development of the primarily office-space-oriented Diamond View buildings that overlook the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

A third Diamond View building, known as Diamond View III, is under construction off Blackwell Street, and is expected to be completed this summer. Previously it was announced that FHI 360 would be occupying about 95,000 of 130,000 square feet in the building.

In addition, plans have been filed for proposed construction immediately adjacent to the Durham Performing Arts Center and nearby parking deck that were labeled “ATC East Hotel.”

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Update on The Pit in Durham: Greg Hatem, founder of the Raleigh-based restaurant group Empire Eats, said the new location of the barbecue restaurant The Pit in Durham is planned to open in June or July.

The restaurant will be next to the Durham brewery Fullsteam in a former bottling plant that’s being redeveloped.

The restaurant is planned to have a second floor rooftop patio as well as an open dining room and central bar, and private dining location. It will also run a catering operation.

 “We are kind of in the thick of it right now,” Hatem said of the construction work on the building. “We’re doing all of our infrastructure (work), we’re really excited about it because we’re going to have a whole area dedicated just to whole-hog production.”

The restaurant is going into an area around Geer and Foster streets and Rigsbee Avenue in Durham that has become a hot spot for food and entertainment.

Businesses in operation there include Motorco Music Hall, Fullsteam, and the restaurant Geer Street Garden, among others.

Hatem said the company is working with farmers to ramp up production to make sure they have enough free-range hogs to supply The Pit in Durham when it opens its doors.

“It’s a lot of coordination to make that happen,” Hatem said. “Especially when we’re doing this restaurant that’s got access to private dining, and rooftop dining, looking back over downtown.”

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