Well-known Eastern North Carolina barbecue pitmaster Ed Mitchell is leaving The Pit, a successful restaurant he helped start in downtown Raleigh, and plans to open a new restaurant in the Triangle.
Also Wednesday, Mitchell's former business partner, Greg Hatem, announced that he will open a second location of The Pit in downtown Durham.
"I thought it was time to move on," Mitchell said in a phone interview Wednesday. "There were some other things I wanted to do to take my vision to the next level. I'm very happy that Greg and I did something great."
Hatem said that The Pit in Raleigh will keep the same recipes and dishes after Mitchell's departure, and there are plans to expand into catering. Although Hatem wouldn't disclose the location of the second Pit restaurant in Durham, he expects it will open by early 2012.
"We enjoyed our relationship with Ed Mitchell," Hatem said. "Ed wants to pursue the Ed Mitchell brand. We want to continue pursuing great North Carolina whole hog barbecue."
Though Mitchell wouldn't reveal details about his next restaurant, he has partnered with Garner-based Butterball to promote turkey barbecue, which he will be cooking at next month's Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.
Building his reputation
Mitchell, 64, originally transformed his family's Wilson grocery store in the 1990s into a Eastern North Carolina barbecue destination. Over the years, he became a darling of the national food media. He participated in the inaugural New York barbecue event nine years ago and has returned every year.
However, as Mitchell's profile was on the rise, he stumbled as a businessman. He couldn't make the business loan payments to his bank. The bank foreclosed on the restaurant in 2004, and the two sides filed dueling lawsuits. In 2005, Mitchell was charged with failure to pay state sales taxes related to the business. He served 30 days in jail.
Forming a partnership
In 2007, Mitchell's resurrection on the barbecue scene seemed assured. He partnered with Hatem, a downtown Raleigh developer with a record of opening successful restaurants. Hatem operates Empire Eats and has stakes in several restaurants, including The Raleigh Times, The Morning Times, Sitti, Gravy and Fai Thai. It seemed at the time like a good pairing: Mitchell as a known barbecue personality and Hatem with the business sense.
Mitchell's return to the restaurant scene was covered extensively in the national food magazines. Then a 2009 appearance on "Throwdown! With Bobby Flay," the Food Network star, made the Raleigh restaurant even more popular.
The Pit serves 4,000 pounds of barbecue a week, and there is typically an hour and a half wait on weekends, Hatem said. The restaurant even began selling its own brand of barbecue sauces at Williams-Sonoma stores.
But now that partnership has come to an end.
Mitchell hopes to have more to say about his next restaurant in about a month.
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