The restaurant space vacated this week by the closing of Motto in Durham won’t be empty for long.
Later this year, It’s a Southern Thing: Kitchen and Bar will bring a Southern menu to a dining room that’s previously only known Italian.
Pete Susca, Motto’s bar manager, is the new owner. He previously ran his own restaurant, La Russa’s Italian Delicatessen, in Chapel Hill’s Meadowmont.
Motto closed Sunday after a year in Durham’s West Village. Kevin Jennings of Urban Food Group, which owned Motto, said the ambitious restaurant had been underperforming.
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Susca, a New Jersey native, said he named his new restaurant after the way people explained the idiosyncrasies of the South when he first moved to North Carolina in 1999.
“When I first moved down here I wasn’t familiar with any of the Southern cuisine,” Susca said. “I’d see grits on the menu and ask,‘What’s that?’ And they’d just say, ‘It’s a Southern thing.’ What’s chicken and dumplings? ‘It’s a Southern thing.’ What’s sweet tea? We don’t have sweet tea in New Jersey.”
Susca expects to open the restaurant by the middle of September, saying the bones of the now-former Motto will largely remain, but that the vibe will be more casual. The wood fire oven will stay in place, this time cooking whole chickens and fish. He said there will be pork cheeks and collard greens, shrimp and grits, burgers and sandwiches and a drink list of craft beer and cocktails.
“What I’m looking to do is make it more casual, more attainable for everyone in Durham,” Susca said. “We’ll do local Southern cuisine, Southern comfort food.”
It’s a Southern Thing: Kitchen and Bar will open with Matt Kulp as its chef, who most recently worked as the chef at McCormick & Schmick’s and has cooked at Garland in downtown Raleigh and the former Zely and Ritz on Glenwood Avenue.
For Susca, Southern food is a love he had to find, not one he grew up knowing. He said he sees that thread in Durham today, a city with more and more transplants building a city together.
“I’m new to Durham; the new Durham is a completely different place,” Susca said. “It’s young and hip and different than it used to be. There are so many people who have come here and fallen in love with the Durham area.”
Susca said mid-priced restaurants are missing in the Durham food scene, that it’s crowded on the high and low ends but short on everyday restaurants.
“A Southern kitchen, not just smoked barbecue and sides, but well-plated dishes, well-performed cooking,” Susca said. “Southern food is good and delicious and reminds you of being happy and being a kid again and having your mom or grandma cook for you.”
The restaurant was sold Monday to Susca, with Michael Depersia of National Restaurant Properties handling the sale.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson