Ekhaya is slated to have a soft launch this weekend. Credit: Courtesy photo

Zweli and Leonardo Williams have exciting new ventures on the horizon. 

Long-anticipated restaurant Ekhaya—or “Home” in the Ndebele and Zulu languages—is slated to open next week at American Tobacco Campus, with a small-plate menu that acts as a love letter to the dishes Chef Zweli grew up with in Zimbabwe. The dishes are heavily influenced by Southern African Bantu Cuisine and its bold, comforting flavors.  

“My wife really dug into her roots and was inspired by the dishes that she ate growing up in the villages of Zimbabwe,” Leonardo tells the INDY. “She’s reminiscing on those times that she and her sisters would go shopping in downtown Bulawayo and some of the street food they’d get and is reimagining those dishes as small plates.” 

Zweli Williams was voted best chef by INDY Week readers in 2021’s Best of the Triangle. Zweli’s Kitchen, the couple’s first joint venture, has been open since 2018. In 2021, they opened offshoot eatery Zweli’s Cafe, located in Duke’s Divinity School. Now, alongside the opening of Ekhaya, the couple plans to move Zweli’s from its Oak Leaf Plaza location, off of 15-501, to Brightleaf Square this August. 

Leonardo says that the couple has been looking for a new location for awhile in order to be closer to downtown Durham. 

Brightleaf Square has seen a massive reshuffling of businesses since the Charlotte-based firm Asana Partners purchased the property—and shortly after, nearby Peabody Place—for $39 million and $7 million, respectively. Since then, a number of area businesses, including Parker & Otis and Saint James Seafood, have either relocated or shuttered. Zweli’s will join a number of new restaurants that have signed onto the space, including Fonda Lupita, Afters Dessert Bar, and Niko. 

Photo courtesy of Zweli and Leonardo Williams Credit: Photo courtesy of Leonardo and Zweli Williams.

The couple is hoping to host a soft launch of Ekhaya on Saturday, March 25th. 

Ekhaya’s new bar space will allow the restaurant’s team to create intricate cocktail concepts to accompany small plates. With the pair hoping to establish Ekhaya as a date night go-to for Durhamites, the addition of a curated cocktail and wine menu will no doubt enhance that vision.  

Both locations—larger and eclectic spaces that will play host to the flavors that first established Zweli’s as a Durham favorite—will have communal-style seating and will feature some of their established dishes alongside new menu additions.

“The star of the show for me is the Bobote,” Leonardo says, describing the menu. “It’s a traditional Southern African dish featuring a cinnamon-based ground beef served with an egg souffle topping and a basil flavor that cuts through the dish. Some dried fruits add a bit of acidity—but it’s not too sweet.” 

The new location of Zweli’s also has a welcome menu alteration: unlimited sides will be included with entrees.

“People love our sides,” Leonardo says. “Our chakalaka, our peanut butter collard greens, our coleslaw. Now you’re going to get those sides brought to your table in an unlimited fashion.”

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