When Dame’s Chicken & Waffles moved from its longtime downtown Durham location to a larger space a few blocks away, it took 15 months to reopen.
But construction delays are common for restaurants.
When Dame’s looked to open a fast-casual location on Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street, however, a global pandemic derailed plans for a year. It was a one-two punch that the beloved restaurant is just now beginning to move on from.
This month, the Chapel Hill Dame’s Chicken & Waffles finally opened. It is at 147 E. Franklin St., in the space formerly occupied by Bski’s.
For now and likely for the first month, the Chapel Hill Dame’s will be open for lunch only, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dame’s owners Randy Wadsworth and Damien Moore opened in 2010 in downtown Durham, quickly becoming a phenomenon and one of the city’s busiest restaurants, especially for weekend brunch. Locations later opened in Cary and Greensboro.
Dame’s is famous for its crispy fried chicken and large Belgian waffles, served with flavored syrups and schmears.
In 2019, Dame’s was the first restaurant to move into the Liberty Warehouse Apartments, eventually joined by Foster Street Coffee and the Durham Food Hall.
For the Chapel Hill location, which was slated to open by the end of 2019, Dame’s planned something different. When fully opened, the Franklin Street restaurant will be a counter service model tailored more to the grab-and-go needs of students and folks on the go, Wadsworth said.
For now, it’s just trying to get up and running.
“We’re trying to get the ball rolling,” Wadsworth said. “We’re going with the basic chicken and waffle menu to start.”
Adjusting to pandemic
The new Dame’s concept is a response to the continued rise of fast-casual restaurants, which have grown even more in the Triangle in the last few years with the opening of food halls, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, national chains Torchy’s Tacos and Dave’s Hot Chicken announced expansions into North Carolina, and Raleigh chef Ashley Christen’s BB’s Crispy Chicken is one of the Triangle’s most anticipated openings this year.
Wadsworth said the Chapel Hill location could have opened sooner, but that the timing of the pandemic forced a pause. Opening prematurely, he said, could have risked the restaurant.
“COVID had a major impact on us,” he said. “We made the decision to save the location instead of going on in and opening.”
Dame’s is working to hiring more staff this month, Wadsworth said. He’s optimistic the worst effects of the pandemic are behind the industry and credits customers for keeping the popular brand afloat.
“It was rough,” Wadsworth said. “We want to thank those who kept us here. A lot of places didn’t make it, but our customers kept us open.”