James and Michelle Lee opened the Ooh La Latte Café next to their other business, the successful vintage clothing boutique Untidy Museum, as a social gathering place and, eventually, a music venue. The café, near East Campus on Broad Street, quickly became a regular stopping place for Durham locals and students. Both businesses seemed to be doing well, with the local music scene supporting a new place for shows. But as their relationship with partner Jennifer Donner soured amidst business disputes, the couple struggled to keep things afloat–finally closing both businesses at the end of June.
Now the Lees are back with a new Durham venue just in time for the Troika Music Festival. Located downtown on Dillard Street, their new 305 South gallery and performance space opens full-force on Saturday, Aug. 27 with a hefty lineup of bands for the festival’s final night.
James Lee said it was tough to close the Untidy and Ooh La. Asked if it was the business slowing down or the financial partnership, he said, “Combination of both, but the majority of it was, well, this was our living. We were trying to build a strong business for our savings. We put our energy and time into it.”
Donner could not be reached for comment.
James Lee, who once described his plans for a new space as putting together “something very big and very cool,” said he hopes the new space in a large, older building on Dillard Street will be a gathering place for artists.
In an e-mail to friends and supporters, the Lees stated their hopes for 305 South: “We hope to make this space into another great community artist/performance space … and to continue to work with all the great local artists and musicians, as well as other small business owners, to eventually make this space another great attraction and gathering space.”
For Troika, 305 South plays host to music all day Saturday, starting at 11:30 a.m. with a free morning show with Farmer Jason and friends, then jumping into the Troika roster for 10 sets of rock and pop from bands including Polynya, Goner, Work Clothes and Tenement Halls, ending with a set from Portastatic.