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 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."
David Auerbach, a philosophy professor at N.C. State University and former food writer for the Independent, got engaged to his wife, Cat Warren, at Magnolia Grill. He said: "It's very sad for me and Cat; that's our neighborhood bar. Often when we had a crummy day, we'd say, 'Let's go have apps at the Grill.' We'd use it as a place to get cheered up."
Chef Walter Royal of The Angus Barn said: "I'm sad but proud of both of them for doing this. My heart is with them. I want them to enjoy this time."
Chef Glenn Lozuke of Durham's Sage & Swift Catering: "Man, I get a little choked up just thinking about this...It was the best culinary experience of my life... I wish nothing but the best for them."
Chef Tom Ferguson of Durham Catering Co. said: "Wow. He gets to go out on top, on his own terms...It's a classy move. Now he's set the bar on how to close."
Ferguson added about his tenure at Magnolia Grill: “I am so proud to have been part of that [family] tree.”
Chef Phoebe Lawless of Scratch in Durham: "I think it's wonderful that they are able to exit after such a long and rich history."
Greg Cox, longtime restaurant critic for The News & Observer: "Nobody can touch the influence they've had."
Chef Bret Jennings of Elaine's on Franklin in Chapel Hill: "I'm happy for them. It made me think about how tough this business is. Ben loves his restaurant as much as anybody I've ever met...I don't know what he's going to do with himself if he's not working 20 hours a day."
Jennings added: "I think it's a very serious kitchen. It really put the Triangle on the map nationally."
Chef Bill Smith of Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill: "I'm flabbergasted. It makes me want to have gone there more often."
Chef Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh wrote in an email: "Whether you did or didn't work for Karen and Ben Barker, Magnolia Grill has always been a point of inspiration and pride for Triangle cooks and restaurant folks. The number of careers that that they have supported and ignited is mind-blowing. These guys brought national food praise to the Triangle decades ago...Their menus have always told stories celebrating our farmers, cheese makers and producers. The Barkers gave these personalities and producers top billing and did a great deal to teach the community that this is truly where great food begins."
She continues: "This is an incredibly consuming business full of emotions, challenges and unquantifiable rewards. That said, there is no reward greater than being a present part of the lives of our families and loved ones. If anyone has earned the opportunity to take a breath and soak that in, it's Karen and Ben Barker. Cheers to them both."
Two other links:
HERE is my story from two year's ago about the influence of Magnolia Grill, including a chefs' family tree.
HERE is Greg Cox's story where he named Magnolia Grill as Restaurant of the Year in 2011.