The Chicken Hut has always been all about family. 

Located in a modest, two-story brick building off Fayetteville Street, the meat-and-three has deep local roots: It was opened in 1957 by Claiborne Tapp Jr. and his wife and business partner, Peggy Tapp. When Claiborne died in 1998, the family continued to run the business with the help of Peggy Tapp’s sisters and her son, Tre Tapp. 

When Peggy Tapp passed away two years, Tre Tapp took over. The eatery lays claim as the longest-running black-owned business in Durham. 

The Durham institution has seen it all. It’s survived family tragedies and gentrification. It’s been a political gathering place for decades. Over the years, time and time again,The Chicken Hut’s family recipe has landed the restaurant’s sizzling baskets of fried chicken on the INDY’s best-of lists.  

And now, amid COVID-19 and the state shutdown, The Chicken Hut is not going to let kids go hungry: Beginning Monday, the restaurant will serve provide free weekday meals for children 18 and younger.

“Everyone who knew my mom Peggy Tapp—she was always giving from her heart,” Tre Tapp told the INDY. “Her passion was always helping the community and helping people in need. It was never an issue of money with her first. She always prided herself giving from the heart to help others. I just learned from my mom.”

The Chicken Hut has been open for takeout—and giving away food—since the beginning of the crisis. 

The first week of the shutdown, the restaurant included a free child’s meal with the purchase of every adult meal. Soon, the restaurant began distributing free bag lunches on weekends. The first Saturday that they did, Tapp says they handed out 750 meals; the next Saturday, that number grew to 900. 

But when the school closure extended into May, and Tapp saw the need grow, he felt he could do more. 

“It was really bothering me that with some of these kids, school would be one of the only meals that they get,” Tapp says. “I was feeling bad that kids wouldn’t be able to eat, so I came up with a plan, and we partnered with one of the schools that we cater for, which is Healthy Start Academy.”

Tapp says that on weekdays, breakfast will be available for for pick-up between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., and lunch will be available between noon and 2:00 p.m., until further notice. Meals will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

“We haven’t shut down one single time since all this has been going,” Tapp says, “And like I said, that’s a blessing that I thank God for, every night and every morning. A lot of businesses are really suffering.”

When the matriarch of The Chicken Hut was still alive, she made sure that nobody walked out of her restaurant feeling hungry, according to Tapp: even when someone couldn’t pay the full price, they were always served a meal. Collards, mac ‘n cheese, fried okra—at The Chicken Hut, what has always mattered is experiencing a full plate of food with a community. 

Peggy Tapp passed away on her birthday on April 10, 2018. She was 78. 

Tapp’s own children are 11 and 12. His oldest daughter, he says, has inherited the family passion for cooking. 

“My mother and father, they worked hard every day to keep the restaurant going for me because I used to say the same thing to them—that I wanted to take over the restaurant one day,” Tapp says. “And that’s what’s pushing me, to keep it going for my daughter. I just want to keep it going on for generations and generations.”

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