Six months ago, chef Matt Kelly was forced to close Saint James Seafood following an explosion triggered by a gas leak in Brightleaf Historic District that killed the owner of a coffee shop and a gas company worker, and also left twenty-five people injured. Kelly’s restaurant was among the fifteen or so buildings that were damaged in the blast.
On the morning of April 10, Kelly was on his way to the YMCA when he got a call from his prep cook telling him that there was an explosion near Saint James Seafood.
“My first reaction was complete guilt, and I was terrified,” Kelly told the INDY in April. As the owner of five Durham restaurants, Kelly is responsible for managing a substantial number of staff and personnel.
“[The explosion] has definitely affected our team dramatically,” Kelly said. “But one of the biggest things people can do, when that area is normal, is come out and support us, our neighbors, and the Brightleaf community.”
On Thursday, exactly six months since the date of the explosion that rocked downtown Durham, Kelly announced that he will reopen Saint James in the same location in January 2020. Following the explosion, first responders had managed to prevent the fire from reaching the restaurant, but dust and other debris made its way in through the kitchen’s exhaust system. After months of extensive cleanup and rigorous inspections of the restaurant’s electrical, gas and mechanical systems, Saint James will reopen its doors early in the new year.
“As a Brightleaf business owner, I continue to mourn the loss of life and am still saddened by the devastation,” Kelly said in a statement, referring to the late Kong Lee, the owner of the now-shuttered Kaffeinate coffee shop, and Jay Rambeaut, the gas company worker. “We were touched by all the phone calls, text messages and words of encouragement from our customers and friends; that’s why we love Durham. My team and I are looking forward to getting back to work. We cannot wait to shuck some oysters for you.”
For the past fifteen years, Kelly has catalyzed downtown Durham’s transformation into a hub for fine dining. Saint James, the fifth establishment to join his restaurant group—Vin Rouge, Mateo, Mothers & Sons Trattoria, Lucky’s Delicatessen—has earned local and national acclaim as a “seafood lover’s paradise,” and was also featured on the cover of the INDY‘s Food & Drink Almanac earlier this year. The menu, which will spearheaded by a new head chef (Kelly is currently accepting applications), pays homage to the state’s coastal seafood traditions with an impressive raw bar, Calabash-style fried seafood, and tiered seafood towers. Kelly is also a four-time semifinalist for a James Beard Best Chef award for the Southeast.
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