Saint James Seafood has not had it easy. Four years ago, in late 2017, James Beard nominee Matt Kelly opened the upscale seafood restaurant at 806 West Main Street.

The restaurant opened in the building that formerly housed Fishmonger’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar, a Durham institution for over 30 years that closed in 2015. Kelly’s bright redo of the space was highly anticipated: bar seats were full, reservations booked far out. And then, just 18 months later, in April 2018, a contractor in the area struck a gas line outside Kaffeinate coffee shop, just around the corner on North Duke Street.

The massive explosion, just an hour later, killed Kaffeinate owner Kong Lee, on-site at the coffee shop; two weeks later, gas company worker Jay Rambeaut also died. Numerous sites on the block were condemned, Saint James among them, though structurally it was in better shape than some of the other buildings in the area. 

For a while, it looked like Saint James would come back. And it did, in early 2020, for 39 days.

Then, of course, came the pandemic. Like other restauranteurs, Kelly made some pandemic innovations, opening for takeout for several months as Jimmy’s Dockside, though he decided to discontinue service at the end of 2020, explaining that his restaurants aren’t “built for to-go.” 

Now, Kelly is planning to reopen the Brightleaf District restaurant in January of 2022. 

“I feel excited after, you know, reopening it a third time. I have a lot of gratitude and am fortunate that I’m in the position to get it back up. I’m very appreciative of everyone’s response and reaching out,” says Kelly, the owner of Vin Rouge, Mothers & Sons Trattoria, and Mateo Bar de Tapas in Durham (a fourth spot, Lucky’s Delicatessen, closed during the pandemic, though Kelly told the INDY that it is possible that it will reopen at another location). 

The menu, according to the press release, will continue to be “rooted in guest favorites including Calabash-style fried seafood platters, steamed seafood, chilled seafood towers and an extensive raw bar with the Triangle’s largest selection of oysters.” It will also continue to source from North Carolina fisheries. 

As with the first reopening, in 2020, Saint James will say thank you to Durham first responders by hosting them for the soft reopening.

“I know it sounds so simple, but I’m just one of the guys who love what they do,” Kelly says. “I’m just excited to get back to work and to share what we make with the community again—to get back to work and throw a little life in Bright Leaf.” 

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