Whiskey Kitchen, a new bar and restaurant off downtown’s Nash Square, is scheduled to open next week. One of its partners, chef Michael Thor, is 400 miles away at a rehabilitation center in Atlanta working to recover from a motorcycle crash last year.
Thor’s business partner, Jeff Mickel, has been working to open the 6,000-square-foot restaurant that the men envisioned together. One of Thor’s best friends, chef Jonathan Botta, came down from New York to help open the restaurant.
Mickel, the former longtime general manager at Raleigh’s Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, said the three men are in regular contact about the restaurant’s progress.
About Thor, Botta said, “He’s the reason why I’m here. I really want to make sure this is successful.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, Thor said: “I couldn’t trust Botta and Jeff more.”
On Nov. 20, Thor, 33, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a motorcycle wreck. Another driver changed lanes without seeing his bike, sending Thor off the road and into a pole. A few weeks after the wreck, Thor was sent to the Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehab hospital in Atlanta, where he has been working on his recovery ever since. Now, he and his wife, Sarah, live in an apartment that is a 10-minute walk from the center where he goes for outpatient rehab.
The downtown Raleigh community of chefs, restaurateurs, artists and friends has rallied to help Thor as he recovers. They held fundraisers and have donated more than $30,000 to a gofundme campaign to help with his expenses. His wife has been unable to work since the wreck.
Thor’s progress has been marked by leaps and setbacks. By May, he could almost complete a full lap around the center’s basketball court. Then he developed blood clots in his legs, which required multiple surgeries and took him away from therapy for five weeks.
He’s back in therapy now and his spirits are rebounding. “The morale has gotten a lot better the last couple days,” Thor said. On Wednesday, he was able to jump while reclining on a tilted platform.
Along the way, Mickel and Botta have updated Thor on the progress at Whiskey Kitchen, a chef’s barroom serving Southern food, as well as more than 200 whiskeys, wine and beer. The men have consulted with Thor on the phone and in person about the menu’s direction, working from drafts that he did before the wreck.
The menu offers small plates, entrees, sides and desserts; prices range from $6 to $40 for platters for two. Among the highlights: a lamb burger served with a shepherd’s blend cheese; a cornmeal-fried skate sandwich; a pork shank pot pie where the bone peeks out from under the biscuit crust; a smoked fish dip served with housemade bagel chips; a seafood boil with head-on shrimp, corn, potatoes and smoked sausage; and a biscuit served with pork cracklings and smoked whipped cream.
While following the progress has been bittersweet, the couple said they have enjoyed being involved despite the distance and circumstances. They helped pick out stools. They have toured the 150-seat restaurant and patio via video call and have seen chefs in the kitchen and friends at the bar. They have loved following people’s anticipation about the restaurant’s opening via social media.
Thor is looking forward to returning to Raleigh and getting to see the restaurant and bar he envisioned in person. He wants his friends and supporters to know: “I will see them sometime soon. I’m hoping that within 18 months post-accident to get back to Raleigh. It’s a lofty goal. I tend to set goals for myself, and usually I make them.”
Whiskey Kitchen is at 201 W. Martin St., Raleigh, whiskey.kitchen. Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday. (They hope to add lunch in a couple of weeks and then hours will change to 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday.)
If you want to help Michael Thor, donations can be made online: gofundme.com/nnbjypys.