Dame’s Chicken and Waffles is ready to reopen in Durham after agonizing 15-month hiatus

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After 15 months away, one of Durham’s most popular restaurants will return Monday in a new location.

Dame’s Chicken & Waffles will reopen next week in its new space on the ground floor of the Liberty Warehouse apartment complex, according to co-owner Randy Wadsworth.

The return has been more than a year in the making. Wadsworth said he and co-owner Damion Moore expected it would take just three months to move from the legendary space on Main Street over to Foster Street, near the Durham farmer’s market. Now, 15 months later, the beloved fried chicken and waffles are back.

“It feels like it did when we opened the first one,” Wadsworth said, of finally reopening. “We put so much in the first one (in 2010), the others came easier. The pains of this one has made us fall in love with the brand all over again.”

The Durham Dame’s was always one of the most sought-after brunch tables in the area, famous for the line along the sidewalk of hungry people waiting to get inside. The specialty is fried chicken, either bone-in wings or boneless breasts, waffles and sweet smears of butter and flavored syrup.

During the extended hiatus, Wadsworth said he came across a best-of blog post on Durham restaurants, and Dame’s was left out.

“We weren’t mentioned; every time I’ve seen a story like that, we’ve been mentioned, and it hurt my feelings,” Wadsworth said. “I hope they didn’t forget about us.”

Wadsworth said the move was essential because Dame’s had outgrown its space on Main Street. The Liberty apartments location will be 4,200 square feet, more than doubling the 1,900 in the original location, Wadsworth said.

“I will really miss the coziness, the historic value, the intimacy of the original space,” Wadsworth said. “I won’t miss the customer complaints about parking, the headaches of a small space, seeing customers standing out in the rain.”

Two years ago, Wadsworth said he and Moore saw Durham’s downtown pushing north towards Geer Street, and thought that might be the location of the future. Durham’s Geer Street district has been heavily developed in the last year, with one major apartment complex finished and more on the way, plus a handful of new bars and restaurants. Now Dame’s is in the mix, next door to Foster Street Coffee and a few doors down from the future Durham Food Hall.

“That seems to be where downtown Durham is growing; there’s another high rise going across the street,” Wadsworth said. “Downtown can’t grow but in so many directions. We heard it calling our name.”

Next week Dame’s will be in soft-opening mode, with Monday hours planned from noon to 4 p.m. and the rest of the week in a wait-and-see approach. The menu will be familiar, to start, Wadsworth said, with new items and flourishes like a waffle of the month coming later.

“We want to give them what they fell in love with to start,” Wadsworth said. “We’re not going to come back and give them something we’re not.”

Wadsworth attributed the delay largely to construction issues and building a restaurant from scratch. He said the biggest concern was losing staff while Dame’s was closed. Some employees have moved on to other jobs, but Wadsworth said an experienced core are returning.

Now that the Durham restaurant is ready to open, Wadsworth said a new location in Chapel Hill will be the next project. The new Dame’s will move into the former [B]Ski’s on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and will be operated by Michael Newell and Andre Towns, who are also franchise owners of the Cary location. Wadsworth anticipates an April opening.

“Get ready, Chapel Hill,” Wadsworth said.

Melissa Clark makes crispy fried chicken that is best eaten cold.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.