Famous eastern North Carolina barbecue pitmaster Ed Mitchell is leaving The Pit in downtown Raleigh and plans to open another restaurant in the Triangle, according to a press release that went out today.
Meanwhile, Mitchell's former business partner, Greg Hatem, announced that he would be opening a second location of The Pit in downtown Durham later this year or early next year.
Mitchell is a well-regarded barbecue pitmaster who originally transformed his family's Wilson grocery store in 1990 into a barbecue destination. As Mitchell's profile started to rise, he stumbled as a businessman. He ended up in a squabble with the bank that resulted in litigation and that restaurant was closed in 2004. A year later, he was convicted of failure to pay state sales taxes related to the business and served 30 days in jail.
But in 2007, Mitchell's resurrection on the barbecue scene seemed assured. He partnered with downtown Raleigh developer Greg Hatem to open The Pit. Hatem operates Empire Eats and has stakes in several downtown Raleigh restaurants, including The Raleigh Times, The Morning Times, Sitti, Gravy and Fai Thai. It seemed at the time like a good pairing: Mitchell with the barbecue expertise and being a known barbecue personality and Hatem with the business sense and an existing centralized system for running the restaurant's payroll, ordering and logistics.
Mitchell's return to the restaurant scene was covered extensively in the national food magazines. Then a 2009 appearance on "Throwdown! with Bobby Flay," the Food Network star, made the Raleigh restaurant even more popular than it already was. The restaurant even began selling its own brand of barbecue sauces at Williams-Sonoma stores.
But now that partnership has come to an end. In a phone interview, Mitchell said: "I thought it was time to move on. There were some other things I wanted to do to take my vision to the next level. I'm very happy that Greg and I did something great. The opportunity was very appreciated."
Mitchell didn't want to discuss his next restaurant project but hopes to within a month's time. The press release directs the public to this website for updates: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pitmaster-ED-Mitchell/104706286282872
Mitchell did reveal that he plans to partner with Butterball, which is headquartered in Garner, to make turkey barbecue. He will be showing off that dish at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party next month in New York City. (Mitchell is a founding pitmaster at the block party and this is his ninth year to cook for the event.)
Reached on the phone, Hatem said, "We enjoyed our relationship with Ed Mitchell. Ed wants to pursue the Ed Mitchell brand. We want to continue pursuing great North Carolina whole hog barbecue."
Hatem added that nothing will change at the Pit restaurant. The recipes, sauces and dishes will not be altered due to Mitchell's departure.
Hatem added that they plan to open a catering kitchen to help the restaurant keep up with demand and be able to offering catering services.