Choose a blog

Magnolia Grill serves its last meal

Go HERE to read my story about Magnolia Grill's last month.

No more reservations available at Magnolia Grill

I got an email this morning from chef Ben Barker: there are no more reservations available between now and when the restaurant closes on May 31. 

Barker notes that walk-ins can be accomodated on most nights except for graduation and Mother's Day weekend (May 11 and 12) but there's no guarantee that you will get a table. Barker wrote, "The response to our announcement has been overwhelming." 

UPDATE Friday evening: Barker said they are maintaining a waiting list for reservations and have already called people off the waiting list to fill tables.  

If you are late to the news, go HERE to read my story about Magnolia Grill closing. 

Chefs, patrons react to Magnolia Grill's closing












Above: Karen and Ben Barker on the day Magnolia Grill opened in 1986. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Grill.

Here's what folks had to say Wednesday about chef Ben and Karen Barker's announcement that they are closing Durham's Magnolia Grill on May 31:

Note: Go HERE to read story in Thursday's paper.

Chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss.: "On one hand, I'm saddened. But I'm also happy for them that they are launching this new phase of their lives."

Currence added: "Magnolia is one of those places where I remember clearly everything that I've eaten there, every time that I've went there."

Chef Chris Stinnett of Rue Cler and Pop's in Durham: "I owe him almost all the things I've accomplished....He's going to go out and live his life, which is awesome."

Chef Jason Smith of 18 Seaboard and Cantina 18 in Raleigh: "They were instrumental in my career path...I really enjoyed watching the way Ben ran his restaurant. I don't think the guy knows what the word 'shortcut' means."

Click READ MORE to see more quotes.

Durham's Magnolia Grill closing May 31

Durham chefs Ben and Karen Barker announced Wednesday morning that they will be closing Magnolia Grill on May 31.

In an email, the Barkers wrote that they had run the restaurant for 25 years and were ready for a change. They cited a need to spend more time with family.

“We have all of our parents, all 80 years old, or nearly,” they wrote. “We want to see them more. We have two grandchildren we’ve barely spent any time with; we want to see them more. We have co-workers we’ve been around more than our sons - it’s time for that to change."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Ben Barker added they have been debating about their future and just decided to do it. "We subsumed to do the restaurant business," he said. He continued that they didn't want to belabor or drag out the ending. He said: "We're so excited and happy about it."

Barker says they don't know if they will do another restaurant: "It might be we retire. That's as equal a possibility as something else."

The Barkers have been a fixture on the Triangle dining scene for more than three decades. Until last year, they were the only North Carolina-based chefs who had won James Beard awards.

The Triangle culinary scene was shocked to hear the news Wednesday.

Chef Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham worked for the Barkers in the early 1990s. Upon hearing the news, Howell said, "I'm sad. They were my parents when I came here. They helped me learn about North Carolina. Now we're friends."

“Wow. I’m flabbergasted,” said chef Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner. Smith worked with the Barkers at La Residence years ago.

Smith said on one hand, he is cheering for the Barkers: “Good for you. It would be nice not to have to work yourself to death.” On the other, he says, “I regret hearing it at the same time.”

Go HERE to read a story about the Barkers and the impact of their restaurant over the years creating the next generation of chefs.

Meet the sous chefs, Greg reviews the Pig, and his new Cheap Eats column

I have a story today profiling the second-in-command in well-known Triangle kitchens. Meet Jimmy Alfano and Jim Long of the Angus Barn, Amanda Forsyth of Magnolia Grill, Miguel Torres of Lantern and Sunny Gerhart of Watts Grocery.

Greg Cox gives 3 1/2 stars to The Pig in Chapel Hill. HERE is his review.

And Greg explores the Triangle ethnic food world with a new Cheap Eats column. His inaugural column explores Mongolian barbecues.

Lantern's chef Andrea Reusing wins Best Chef of the Southeast

Chef Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill's Lantern Restaurant was named the Best Chef of the Southeast Monday night at the James Beard Foundation's annual awards gala.

Reusing, 42, is only the third chef in North Carolina to win a James Beard award. From the stage Monday, she thanked her husband, Mac McCaughan, a singer and guitarist in the rock band Superchunk and co-founder of Merge Records, based in Durham Chapel Hill. And she joked about her decision to wear high heeled shoes: "You can tell I'm surprised to win by my shoe choice - not the most practical for climbing [to the] stage."

Reusing appeared on the Triangle's culinary scene in 1999 when she became the chef at the now closed Enoteca Vin in Raleigh. She was known for her seasonal cuisine and use of ingredients from local farmers. In 2002, she and her brother Brendan Reusing opened Lantern, which focused on using local ingredients to produce Asian-influenced dishes. In 2006, the new defunct Gourmet magazine named Lantern as one of the top 50 restaurants in the country. In 2009, Greg Cox, restaurant critic for The News & Observer, named Lantern as the Triangle's restaurant of the year.

Reusing also just published her first cookbook: "Cooking in the Moment." 

The state's two other James Beard award winners are the husband-wife chef owners of Magnolia Grill in Durham: Ben and Karen Barker.

James Beard was a cookbook author, cooking instructor and food writer known for his championing of America's regional cuisine. After his death in 1985, friends founded the foundation in his name to honor chefs, restaurants, wine professionals, cookbook authors and food journalists. The annual awards are often described as the Oscars of the food world.

James Beard finalists announced today starting at 2 p.m.

The James Beard Foundation announces its award finalists starting at 2 p.m. today, and seven Triangle chefs will learn if they made the cut.

Among the semifinalists for Best Chef in the Southeast are Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill; Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh; Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in Hillsborough; Chip Smith of Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill; Scott Crawford of Herons at the Umstead Hotel in Cary; Scott Howell of Nana's in Durham; and Shane Ingram of Four Square Restaurant in Durham.

Durham's Magnolia Grill also is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category. Its chef-owners Ben and Karen Barker are the state's only James Beard award-winning chefs.

James Beard was a cookbook author, cooking instructor and champion of regional American cuisine. The foundation  honors excellence in restaurants, chefs, wine service professionals, cookbook authors and food journalism.

To follow the announcement live, follow @beardfoundation and #jbfa on Twitter.

In Today's paper: Magnolia Grill family tree, Epicurean, Sara Moulton

In today's paper, in case you missed it, I wrote a story about chefs Ben and Karen Barker and all the chefs who have gone through their kitchen at Magnolia Grill. If you want to see a pdf of the family tree with everyone's photo, scroll down on the right and look for Related Content. 

The Carrboro Farmers' Market is now accepting food stamps, as well as debit and credit cards. Read more HERE

Suzanne Havala Hobbs' On The Table column is about strawberries. 

I wrote a story about former Food Network chef Sara Moulton's new cookbook and her upcoming book signings in the Triangle.

Greg Cox's Epicurean column  is about new Italian places all over the Triangle: Il Forno Italian Grill in Holly Springs, Bellini Fine Italian Cuisine in Fuquay-Varina, Piola at North Hills mall in Raleigh and Enzo's Pizza Co. in Durham.

More from Magnolia Grill alumni

Staff photo by Shawn Rocco

It's a testament to chefs Ben and Karen Barker of Durham's Magnolia Grill (pictured above) that more than 30 chefs called me back within 72 hours last week in between lunch and dinner services. There were so many lovely quotes and anecdotes that folks shared that I thought I would post a few here that didn't make the print edition.

Gail Hobbs-Page, cheesemaker/owner, Caromont Farms, Esmont, Va.

"They taught me how to cook. They really made an imprint on my philosophy of food. I can't say that without tearing up." 

When Hobbs-Page was deciding whether to become a cheesemaker, she came to Durham to have dinner with the Barkers, bring cheese with her for them to taste. After tasting the cheese, she says Ben Barker said, "Gail Hobbs, I think you ought to do it." 

Click READ MORE for more quotes and anecdotes from Magnolia Grill alumni.

Cars View All
Find a Car
Jobs View All
Find a Job
Homes View All
Find a Home

Want to post a comment?

In order to join the conversation, you must be a member of Click here to register or to log in.