Development Beat: H-Street Kitchen To Open Next Week

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Brought to you by Rufty-Peedin Design Build

Friday, July 29, 2016

The permits are in place. The renovations are wrapped up. The tables are — literally — set. But H-Street Kitchen won’t be letting people sample their signature turkey dish “Missin’ Mama” until next week.


H-Street Kitchen


“Over the next several days we’ll kind of know how quickly we’re picking up our training: that’s gonna drive what day we open,” owner Gary Bryant told The Record yesterday.

“We’re ready to open from a legal standpoint, but we want to make sure when we do, we have everything in place,” he added.

We first reported on the renovation of the former Varsity Theater back in October of last year, when Rufty-Peedin Design Build was first issued permits for readapting a space that most recently had been home to the Hillsborough Street Bookstore. At the time, the restaurant was going by the name “The Varsity.”

Steve Peedin, President of Rufty-Peedin, told the Record that working on H-Street has been a great experience.

“We so appreciate Gary Bryant for giving us the opportunity to serve as the general contractor, and are proud to be a part of the revitalization of Hillsborough Street,” Peedin said.

Luke Buchanan's paintings hang in one of the front wings of the restaurant

James Borden

Luke Buchanan’s paintings hang in one of the front wings of the restaurant

Over the last nine months, the onetime movie theater turned McDonald’s turned bookstore has undergone a significant transformation.

Inside, the most notable changes are the newly exposed brick walls and wooden ceilings, which had been encased in plaster before Rufty-Peedin began tearing it all down last fall. But more than the walls needed fixing.

The floor sloped. The ceiling had been lowered. Twice. The upstairs, which once housed the bunker like projection room, was for all intents and purposes inaccessible. And the marquee? It was in such bad shape, the repairs and upgrades it required delayed construction by almost three months.

Now, the refurbished marquee, with H-Street’s logo offset by a stark white background and bright neon lighting, is once again the inviting, Art Deco enticement to come on in that it was in the days of the Varsity Theater.

The front facade has been replaced with sliding glass doors/windows, and inside, the sloped, dilapidated floor has been replaced with an even, polished concrete finish.

The once-abandoned balcony area now has a series of tables overlooking the bar, the open kitchen and the main dining room, and a glass-encased private room situated between two outdoor patio areas.

And in an homage to its theater origins, a large, 165-inch projection screen has been hung against the back wall, accompanied by a high-end, HD projector.

Check out that screen!

James Borden

Check out that screen!

Every last detail: from the number of lumens produced by the projector to the eye-catching fabric prints on the upstairs chairs, was coordinated directly by Bryant, who’s more than happy to expound on the decision-making process behind each and every choice.

Take the small, black, ceramic plates laid out on every table. Bryant said they’re intended as a way for diners to share their appetizers and foster a communal atmosphere: the restaurant will be able to serve up to 12 groups of 12+ guests at a time.

Servers won’t have to wear branded T-shirts or color-coordinated outfits: with a few exceptions, they can walk in off the street, although Bryant does have a system in place.

“They’re allowed to kind of be themselves, we have a system where they’re going to all have the same apron; if we’ve got college students working for us, they can get out of class, throw on an apron and get at it: that’s kind of the spirit of what we want to have here.”

In addition to having students work there, Bryant wants the college crowd to be able to afford to eat there, too. Bryant has charged executive chef Adam Rose with crafting a menu of high-quality, affordable offerings that, if possible, are locally-sourced.

“Our entrees are placed in the $10-$17 range,” Bryant said. Offerings will include everything from small pasta plates and burgers made from “all natural, hormone & antibiotic-free beef” to North Carolina pan-seared trout and the “Missin’ Mama” dish we mentioned earlier, which includes a house-roasted turkey breast and Rose’s Turkey Bread Pudding.

“It’s a throwback to the freshman days; people come in, mom drops them off at college, suddenly they’re a little homesick…” Bryant said.

Like the food, Bryant intends for most of the draft beer to be locally sourced as well, and he was eager to display the just-delivered tap from Trophy Brewing Company, the first to arrive.

General Manager Eric Harris and owner Gary Bryant pose by the Trophy Brewing tap

James Borden

General Manager Eric Harris (left) and owner Gary Bryant (second from left) pose by the Trophy Brewing tap

General Manager Eric Harris said some of the other local breweries they have lined up include the Raleigh Brewing Company, the Lynwood Brewing Concern and Lonerider.

While delays forced Bryant to scrap plans for a grand opening celebration, he said the focus for now is “getting the restaurant right and the staff trained; that’s more important having a VIP event.”

VIP or not, we don’t imagine it’ll be easy getting a table the first night H-Street opens. But if you do, take it from us: sit upstairs.