A new neighborhood bar and restaurant is coming to downtown Durham, though it’s not your average eatery. Queeny’s, opening this summer at 319 East Chapel Hill Street, will include a drip coffee bar, a small bookshop space, and a sound-proof podcast studio that’s free to book. 

Kingfisher owners Michelle Vanderwalker and Sean Umstead had always tossed around the idea of opening a restaurant. That idea began to seem more tenable last spring, when the space directly above Kingfisher became available. All stars were not totally aligned: It was the beginning of the pandemic, and Kingfisher, a bar programmed around a list of cocktails that couldn’t be made to-go, was taking hit.

Still, in December of 2020, the two decided to forge ahead, bringing marketing executive King Kenney on board with them.

The vision, they say, is of an accessible, down-home bar and grill menu with dishes in the $9-$14 range. Expect hot and cold sandwiches, roasted vegetables, “crisper” chicken tenders, big salads, a house burger, and Umstead’s take on the Snappy Lunch Pork Chop Sandwich—a Mount Airy classic that some diners may recall from The Andy Griffith Show. 

“I’ve always loved the idea of building community in different places,” Vanderwalker says. “Downstairs in Kingfisher we have the art gallery, because I like the idea of just having art where you are and not having to go to a museum or gallery on purpose. I wanted to bring more of that—more of those interactions where you don’t have to try to meet people or get together with your friends, you can just go to a place and know that other people are there, looking for the same sort of thing.” 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Umstead and Vanderwalker have seemed experts at rolling with the punches: With Kingfisher unable to open, over the summer, they launched QueenBurger in the backyard behind the bar, which grew to have a loyal following.  

Kenney and Vanderwalker first met around 2011, when they were neighbors. Since moving to Durham, Kenney has been involved in numerous community tastemaking and event programming initiatives, including Jeff and King and a jazz night series. Collaborating on a restaurant, he says, is an exciting chance to create a space that people will gravitate to throughout the week and stick around, maybe buying a round of drinks for friends or drifting over to the bookshop corner to buy a book. 

Although some restaurants have been shifting toward hybrid community and retail spaces, the inclusion of a podcast studio seems, at first blush, a little unorthodox. But podcasts, Sean Umstead says, are a “democratized way for people to immediately tell their stories” and are a booming medium—they’re popping up all over the Triangle—that fits right in with the Queeny’s mission. 

Kenney, Vanderwalker, and Umstead told the INDY that their goal is to have Queeny’s open for business by “mid-summer.” 

“If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that restaurants are vital community spaces,”  Umstead said in a press release. “We are doubling down on in-person connection.” 

Follow Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com

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