By Duchess of Durham1
Damion Moore Brings The Mountain To Durham
At the end of Part 1 of this interview, Damion Moore had been laid off from his job with a telecom corporation. This turns out to be his big break, focusing as it does his energies on his hitherto parttime catering business and supplying him needed capital for his new venture in the form of his severance check.
Eight years ago, Dame and fraternity brother Randy Wadsworth opened Blue Mountain Catering in then rough-and-tumble downtown Durham. OK, “rough-and-tumble” is an euphemism for depressed and dangerous. Heck, Damion readily admits he avoided the area after dark himself.
And, while the dramatic revitalization of downtown Durham has been a major advantage for businesses like the one begun by Dame and Randy, putting together a Renaissance incurs its own non-trivial cost. The noise, dirt, and traffic obstructions caused by the seemingly perpetual construction was discouraging; the sporadic, unpredictable water cutoffs during lunch hour were panic-inducing.
Crises were managed. disasters were averted, and, in the process, skills were sharpened, methods were refined, and Blue Mountain Catering thrived.
The next step in Dame and Randy’s Excellent Adventure, naturally, was closing Blue Mountain Catering.
Playing It Safe With Exclusive Chicken And Waffles Menu
To prepare his staff and facilities, formulate a marketing plan, and develop a menu, Damion and Randy closed their successful catering and lunch business for a few months before launching their new restaurant at the same site in June 2010.
This is where the Chicken And Waffles motif comes into the picture.
Damion’ concluded that their best chance for quickly and effectively establishing the new restaurant in the public’s mind with severely limited funds for advertising was to focus exclusively on one food genre and, in his words, “saturate the market.”
One of the many advantages Blue Mountain Catering provided the new venture was a real life marketing laboratory. By choosing from dishes already known to be popular at Blue Mountain Catering, Damion was able to offer food for which there was a demonstrated demand. The two most popular Blue Mountain menu items were shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles. Because a certain portion of the population has an aversion to shellfish, chicken and waffles was, by exclusion, recognized as the safe choice.
While conflicting narratives of the origins of this dish flourish, 2 Damion’s take on its history focuses on relatively uncontroversial themes: chicken and waffles is a culinary tradition especially popular in the south and associated with jazz musicians, who, ravenous for a hearty meal after the clubs closed in the wee morning hours, came to favor fried chicken (left over from the dinner service) paired with waffles (the batter and accoutrement for which were already prepared in anticipation of breakfast diners).
A jazz fan himself, Damion raided his own home for posters that feature jazz greats, especially those hailing from North Carolina such as Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone, to line the walls of the new restaurant. Naturally, the background music is exclusively jazz.
There are a plethora of details that evidence Damion Moore’s antipathy to casual decisions. The clever, lighthearted, beckoning logo, for example, was not professionally designed nor was it a cut and paste job thrown together by an advertising agency hack. Instead, it was created in an art competition held for students of Durham Academy (where Damion’s wife is employed). Kelsey Zalimeni’s winning entry is featured on the menu, storefront door, and marketing materials.
Similarly, the original ten menu items were Damion’s own painstaking creations. Even the titles of the dishes were carefully composed, each being named after a breed of chicken, such as Honcho, Red Crested Rose Comb, Carolina Cockerel, Brown Leghorn, Buttercup, Orange Speckled Chabo, … .
While psychiatrists may or may not be correct in their assertion that “there are no accidents,” it is certain that in Damion Moore’s business there are no cavalier decisions.
First Chicken And Waffles In Durham, Next, …
By all accounts, Dame’s Chicken And Waffles has indeed “planted its flag” (Damion’s term) as the place for chicken and waffles, a culinary destination worth a drive of two hours or more. (Note: For an outstanding report on and sumptuous photos of the menu offerings at Dame’s, we heartily recommend the review at Carpe Durham.)
So, as pointed out in the preface to this interview, we arrive at the …
Business 101 Essay Question: Eight months ago, you opened a restaurant in a small southern city already celebrated in the national press for the collection of foodie magnets within its borders. Your competitive strategy, exclusively serving variations of one specialty food, chicken and waffles, has been effective. Since opening day, your establishment has been successful with overflow crowds, pages of laudatory reviews, and a growing reputation as the place in the region to go for chicken and waffles. What do you do next?
Answer: Continue to follow the original plan – which calls for lots of changes.
Of course,the until-now sacrosanct manifesto, We serve chicken & waffles and only chicken & waffles, has been rewritten – as planned - into We serve chicken & waffles and other food that is as good and as interesting, starting with sandwiches and salads appearing on the lunch menu. The next few weeks will see the addition of savory waffles, cornbread waffles, gingerbread waffles (on the kids’ menu), and beer and wine (on the adults’ menu). And that other Blue Mountain Catering favorite, shrimp & grits will be staging a return, as will sausage & grits.
Further, expansion plans are not limited to the menu.
The Next Dame’s Chicken And Waffles Location
While suggestions to position the next outpost nearby, in a location such as Raleigh, or in a major city, such as Charlotte, Damion currently appears to favor setting up shop in a small under-served town.
And, where after that?
Well, Damion does nothing without a purpose – and he did name the place Dame’s Almost! World Famous Chicken And Waffles._____________________
- Duchess of Durham lives in her blogonymic namesake municipality, works in one of the more ambiguously arcane estuaries of the financial world, reads novels and poetry voraciously, and watches schlock TV. Having recently discovered the songs and poems of Leonard Cohen, she has subsequently become an enthusiastic admirer of the Canadian singer-songwriter-icon. On occasion, she contributes, directly or indirectly, to the Heck Of A Guy blog. [↩]
- Those intrigued by this culinary history are referred to two excellent discussions at Which Came First: The Chicken or the Waffle? at The Root and Wikipedia. [↩]