The sign on the quaint green house still says “Holly’s on Hargett,” but what’s cooking inside is the newest venture of chef Vaughn Williams: the “Italian inspired, urban defined” cuisine of Notte Urbana, one of downtown Raleigh’s newest restaurants.
Williams aims to extend our palates beyond what he’s offered for 13 years through Urbana Catering Concepts, which has become a mainstay for local community organizations and families.
“Finally, I’ll get an opportunity to show what my talents and what my blessings are, and I’m excited,” Williams, 45, said of opening Notte Urbana with business partner Claudia Frady. “It really takes me back to something in my wheelhouse that I really, really enjoy doing.”
Notte Urbana’s soft opening began with Downtown Raleigh Restaurant Week earlier this month and continues through Labor Day when the eatery will debut its full menu, and unveil its new signage and décor.
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The restaurant is a chance for Williams to stay in one place. He’s been on the go quite a bit during his career.
A native of Yonkers, N.Y., Williams moved to Raleigh as a teenager. He graduated from Broughton High School in 1988 and from N.C. A&T State University in 1993.
Within a year, he enrolled in L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington, D.C., and was touted as one of the top chefs in the city. He also worked as a top chef at Planet Hollywood in New York City.
In 2003, Williams reintroduced himself to Raleigh as Chef Vaughn, executive chef and owner of Urbana Catering Concepts.
A couple of years ago, he created a “shop-drop” portion of his catering business. The idea was to drop off meals at local businesses throughout the Triangle and Triad.
Notte Urbana – which combines the Italian word for “night” and the well-known Urbana brand – is simply the next step forward for Williams. He will also continue to cater in partnership with Proof in Five Points.
At the new restaurant, customers can whet their palates with signature dishes, some with Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan influences. There’s eggplant milanese, kale cranberry caesar salad, sautéed mussels with tomatoes and white-wine butter, and lots more.
Williams’ culinary comfort and confidence in the kitchen is complemented by a reputation that attracts new customers and keeps others coming back.
Among Williams’ newest clients: Triangle Math and Science Academy in Cary now orders lunch from Urbana Catering Concepts.
Williams figures it’s divine coincidence that Notte Urbana’s perch at Hargett and Person streets nestles him between Urban Ministries and The Salvation Army.
For years, Urbana Catering has fed the homeless in Durham on Wednesday and in Charlotte every fourth Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s a mistake I’m here, and I look forward to formulating those connections and relationships here, too,” he said.
Dawn Blagrove was introduced to Williams’ catering services in 2007 as she planned a celebration for her law school graduation.
“Urbana Catering has literally catered my life ever since – every birthday party, Thanksgiving, Christmas,” Blagrove said. “Urbana Catering and Chef Vaughn’s food are part of our family.
“We are so excited about the restaurant opening in downtown Raleigh.”
As president of the Capital City Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Blagrove applauds Williams’ community involvement, from his culinary support of her organization to donations of meals to her daughter’s theater department.
“He’s a great person and he’s an even better chef,” Blagrove said.
If you go
Notte Urbana is open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant is located at 306 E. Hargett St. in downtown Raleigh.