When it opens in late summer, the newly announced Queeny’s won’t struggle to distinguish itself from other neighborhood restaurants in Durham. That’s because it will include a sound-proofed podcast studio that anyone can reserve for free.
The street-level space downtown comes with a “small, room-sized vault” in the back that’s basically already sound-proofed, co-owner and artist Michelle Vanderwalker said. An intimate studio seemed like an obvious choice, especially because the owners want to create an inclusive space driven by a “communal spirit,” co-owner King Kenney said.
“We aim to bring in people who do feel alienated by some of the price points and lack of inclusivity of spaces that exist in Durham right now,” Kenney said. “This is hopefully a step towards the kind of spaces that are needed for a community that’s this diverse. We’re just sort of trying to piece together this communal atmosphere.”
Kenney, a marketing executive and cultural fixture in Durham, said he often encounters people who are interested in podcasting but don’t have the space or equipment to pursue it. But the recording booth won’t be the only distinct draw — Queeny’s will also include a small bookshop component, which Kenney likened to a staff picks section. Vanderwalker said they’re also in talks with East Durham’s new Black-owned Rofhiwa Book Café to curate some of the books.
Vanderwalker and Queeny’s co-owner Sean Umstead also operate the acclaimed Kingfisher Cocktail Bar in the basement space below where Queeny’s will stand. Last year, they launched Queen Burger, a more affordable and accessible smash-burger popup outside the bar.
“We had opened a bar, strictly a bar, with very limited food initially,” Umstead explained. “When the pandemic happened, we were forced to shift to being a restaurant.”
But Queen Burger taught them that a more casual and welcoming concept could work in downtown Durham, and that they could pull it off. That inspired Umstead and Vanderwalker to pursue a more permanent all-day café, restaurant, and bar in Queeny’s. They’ll have the podcast studio, bookstore, and drip coffee bar, but Queeny’s will focus on its all-day menu inspired by “classic bar and grill dishes” like chicken tenders, a pork chop sandwich, a “hearty dinner salad,” fried pickles, and a house-ground burger.
With chef Steph Bell from Queen Burger at the helm, Queeny’s will offer dishes that hover around $10. Think relaxed, comfortable, and welcoming neighborhood grill full of regulars, Umstead said. The restaurant which will stand inside a former law office will also offer a full bar with beer, wine, and seasonal cocktails. That will allow Queeny’s to draw on the strengths of its sister businesses — high-quality drinks and Americana comfort food — while offering several decidedly unique perks.