From Gritty to Gourmet: Fancy Food and the Redevelopment of Durham, North Carolina

Authors: Nina Martin*, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Restaurants, Urban Regeneration, Durham, North Carolina
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Bayside B, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2013, Southern Living Magazine chose an unlikely candidate as its “tastiest town” in the South: Durham, North Carolina. Perhaps best known for its depiction in the film, “Bull Durham,” where minor league baseball players fight for their future in the gritty tobacco town, Durham beat out New Orleans, Charleston, and Atlanta. The city’s culinary offerings were celebrated in the New York Times (2013), noting that Durham’s emergence as a food city paralleled the regeneration of its downtown. Indeed, until fifteen years ago Durham’s deindustrialized downtown was dominated by empty storefronts, derelict tobacco warehouses, and depopulated streets. In Durham, as in many other cities, food is not just about consuming calories but about building a particular kind of experience for affluent consumers. While restaurants do create jobs and revenue, their symbolic role in redeveloping downtowns is paramount to Durham’s regeneration. Upscale restaurants were the first to venture into the untested retail waters of the city center and new food businesses are still opening regularly. The success of a few restaurants starting in 2008 affirmed the growing belief that downtown was a viable space for expensive housing, offices, and retail space. This paper looks at how the gourmet food industry has been mobilized as a development tool, generating a particular discourse of Durham as creative and entrepreneurial. Also celebrated is the contribution by immigrant groups and African American chefs. Masked by this narrative, however, is the differential landscape of entrepreneurial opportunity, whereby minorities are systematically disadvantaged in the food services industry.

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