In the former location of Durham’s beloved Young’s Restaurant on Main Street, Clark’s American Bistro is aiming to open by the end of September according to owner Doug Clark.
Just three months after the opening of Italian restaurant Ciao Italia, Clark’s most recent restaurant is nearly ready to open in Durham. Clark’s American Bistro is finishing construction and building its menu in order to open fully by the end of September or “very early October,” said Clark. The restaurant will have a rustic American look as a celebration of both America and Durham, with a focus on the role Durham played in the creation of this country.
Clark said he wants to remind people that Durham was a thriving town long before the University of New Hampshire: “there’s so much more to this town than the university,” he said. Clark’s American Bistro will celebrate the founding fathers of Durham with vignettes on the wall telling Durham’s histories.
They will debut a regional American menu, similar to how Ciao Italia is regional Italian. Clark said he has divided the country into seven regions to be represented in the menu: New England, Mid Atlantic, South, Texas, Midwest, Southwest and the West.
He said his team has researched the most classic recipes, craft beers, and wines from each of these regions to offer a menu allowing customers to experience the whole range of the country’s foods.
“If you want a European experience, go to Ciao Italia, that’ll be a little more upscale, and here it’ll be a little more casual and all-American,” Clark said. “By nature it’ll be a little more pub-ish, but we call it gastropub, because every item on the menu will have something special to it.”
This “upscale pub-food,” as Clark said, will likely include some New England classics like chowder, lobster rolls and fried fish, barbecue ribs from Texas, a steak from the Midwest, Tex-Mex from the Southwest, and possibly a Po-Boy from Louisiana. “Here we want to show people there’s more to American food than just pizza and burgers,” Clark said.
They will also do brunch on the weekends, and potentially Thursday and Friday in the future, to meet the demands of the locals who have been sending in personal notes asking the bistro to do breakfast.
In terms of construction, Clark said the transition has been straightforward: painting the walls and the ceilings, redoing the floor, building a bar and changing the lighting from that of a breakfast place to something darker for lunch and dinner.
Clark’s American Bistro is being built completely optimized for the coronavirus (COVID-19), Clark said. Anticipating that COVID-19 will be here for a while, he said they are preparing for it at Clark’s American Bistro from day one.
Rather than plexiglass hanging down between booths and tables, each booth will have a glass window to act as adequate separation but also contribute to the restaurant’s aesthetic and character. The bar is completely separated from the dining area and there will be a separate take out stand in the front. Clark said they have considered doing take out through the back door as a different alternative. Since they will be serving American food, it will be much more conducive for takeout, Clark said.
They plan to have as many as 18 out of the 26 tables available inside, plus another 10 or so outside until it gets too cold.
Clark said he is still hoping for Durham to develop a scale for residents to come into town and stay, rather than just coming and going. He said that with four or five adult restaurants, Clark’s American Bistro preparing to add to that, it will get residents to start coming downtown.
Clark said the typical audience might be a little more mixed, about 60 percent adults and 40 percent students. Similarly to Ciao Italia, Clark said the goal is to have a place that the residents of Durham feel comfortable eating in.
“It hurts me to know that when I grew up in Durham, my family would go for walks downtown,” Clark said, “[and now] it’s always just a go get something and leave. It used to be a social gathering place.” He said that the opening of Clark’s American Bistro and more conversation about creating more gathering places in Durham should help bring more balance to Durham: 50 percent of businesses catering to students and 50 percent of them catering to adults.
Clark is exploring some more possibilities in terms of restaurants to be opened in the future, including “Week’s Chop Shop,” a grab-and-go salad, soup and sandwich place for people who “want to eat healthy, but don’t want to still be hungry after they eat,” Clark said. Another option would be a “beer hall” idea similar to South Station in Boston with food stands around the perimeter.
Similarly to Clark’s intent for Durham as a whole, he said he wishes for Clark’s American Bistro to be a gathering place: “this will always be a place where you can sit and have a conversation,” Clark said, “That’s what I’ve promised my wife.”