Looking southeast at the 'point' of Matthews St. and Blackwell St., 1964.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)
The terse writeup of the AB Morris cafe in 1951's "Durham and her People" says only that the cafe at 416 Blackwell St. "cater[ed] especially to the employees of the American Tobacco Company."
By at least the 1960s, though, the cafe had attracted a strong following from a wide variety of sources. It was popular enough with Duke students that, evidently (haven't seen it myself,) on page 30 of the 1967 Chanticleer there's a short writeup of A.B.'s, with a photograph of the interior, mostly showing Duke students.
Andy Moursund and Greg Bowcott, Duke alums from the late 1960s, sent me their reminisces about A.B.'s.
Greg called A.B.'s
"one of the watershed memories of any Midwest kid like [him] eating 'real' southern food for the first time. The other thing about A.B.’s was the combination of students, businessmen/lawyers and tobacco workers all eating lunch in the same place."
"I haven't lived in the South for years, but to this day the greatest restaurant I ever went to was a cafe in Durham, across from the old American Tobacco factory on Blackwell Street, that featured an 85 cent lunch special of 2 pieces of fried chicken, 3 vegetables (and Brunswick Stew counted as a vegetable), all the cornbread balls you could eat, all the side butter you wanted, and a bottomless pitcher of presweetened iced tea. And for an extra nickel they'd throw in a 12 ounce bottle of Pepsi. I can't even imagine what a steady diet like that would do to me now, but for only 5 meals a week for a few years, it was heaven on earth.
It really was kind of a cultish place to be, and I've still never seen anything quite like it at those prices. Even in 1967 it was much cheaper than any of the other restaurants serving a comparable cuisine. A lot of us speculated that it was being subsidized by the tobacco companies themselves, as a way of keeping their employees close by during their lunch hour.
Second, the original cafe was segregated (as were nearly all Durham restaurants up through 1963, when they were mostly opened up as part of a broad citywide agreement that preceded the 1964 federal law), and even in 1967 there was a separate entrance and a separate serving line for Blacks that was just north of the White entrance.
That said, I used to go there fairly often with Black friends, and we never had any problems sitting together, no matter which door we entered and which line we went through. And at least by that point, the conditions were identical (food quality and price), although needless to say, 99% of the other Duke students reflexively sat in the "white" section. And I'm fairly sure as well that there wasn't any formal delineation between the two seating sections---it was more like a less rigid version of the old Jim Crow buses, where the Whites filled up the seats from one direction and the Blacks from the other direction, but the two sections never intermingled without any conscious effort on the part of some of us to do so.
Also, they were only open for breakfast and lunch (or 'dinner', as they used to call it) at the old place, but the new place served dinner (or 'supper') as well. Funny how that old time nomenclature comes back when you reminisce."
Duke students at A.B. Morris, 1967. Caption reads:
"Any weekday at noon the line of people outside A.B.'s waits in anticipation of the meal within. A.B. and his family scurry busily behind the counter serving up Brunswick stew, chicken livers, and slice barbeque. Carrying the plate, coke, and glass of iced tea to a table of green linoleum, one jostles overalled tobacco workers, a buyer, and other college students. The greasy pie tin sitting on the vinegar bottles is periodically refilled with crisp hush puppies. The conversations overheard are common talk. It's the weather, the Durham Bulls, or the new Fords and it's friendly. The men in blue jeans and the boys in Gants lean their elbows on the same table, and for ten minutes they're in the same world, relaxing for lunch in a crowded southern cafe."
From the Duke Chanticleer, 1967.
A.B.'s was torn down by urban renewal by 1970. A new building, placed on the northeast corner of Blackwell St. and the newly-created West Dillard St., housed the 'new' A.B.'s, which, by the mid-1970s had changed its name to "Nance Cafeteria."
Looking northeast at the corner of West Dillard and Blackwell Sts., 1970s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)
I'm not sure when this closed and was torn down. West Dillard was also closed sometime later, such that, moving east to west, Dillard ends at S. Mangum St.
Looking southeast at the former corner of Matthews and Blackwell, 08.10.08
Original street grid overlaid on 2007 satellite imagery.
Submitted by Bedeviled 68 (not verified) on Fri, 8/22/2014 - 2:53pm
In reply to The restaurant where Anotherthyme by SamF (not verified)
Mayola's, right by Bat's (pizza), around the corner from The Ivy Room. Thank you for that pic of A.B.'s - rockin' every weekday, both students and blue collar, but it was pretty clearly (maybe tacitly; I don't know) segregated.
Submitted by Paul (not verified) on Wed, 8/13/2008 - 1:19pm
The street overlay is extremely helpful in understanding things. Thanks!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 8/14/2008 - 9:43am
Thank you for the street overlay. It's been many years since I was in the area, so I find the overlay really helps.
Nance Cafeteria was owned by Maitland Nance, who also owned Nance BBQ and Maitland's at various times. I think he also had part ownership in a gym. Man, I miss that BBQ.
Off topic, but I'd like to make to nominate some areas for consideration at some point (providing they are not too far out of your target area): Braggtown School, the old WTVD building, part of Roxboro Rd between old Oxford Rd and Braggtown Baptist.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Thu, 8/14/2008 - 11:26am
Glad it's helpful - this area is hard to picture.
Thanks for the additional info - where were the other two businesses?
I'd definitely like to take a swing through North Durham after I get through Hayti. I've collected quite a few old images various locations - the old telephone switching station, the Wright Refuge, Bonnie Brae, the old sanitarium/WTVD, Lochmoor, the Teer House, the old County Home, the warehouses on Broad St., etc., etc. Not a lot of images of the section of Roxboro you refer to though. I have a few nighttime Braggtown Xmas parade images, but that's about it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 8/15/2008 - 10:48am
Gary, I honestly can't remember, it's just been too long. Seems like Maitlands was downtown somewhere -- a white tablecloth place maybe? I only remember the BBQ place was further out of town. My dad used to go buy it by the quart and bring it home. I did a quick Google search and it looks like Maitland is still around -- a personal trainer at a place called Millenium Fitness. I bet he could give details and probebly has old pictures of that area.
The old County Home...man, I barely remember that building. If I recall correctly, my dad said once that it used to be a nursing home for Civil War soldiers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 8/20/2008 - 7:45pm
Gary & Paul,
Maitland's was in the building that now houses Anotherthyme. I think that the current bar was originally installed when it was Maitland's.
I believe that the Nance's had a place on Neal Road, where the much disputed warehouse/supply building is now located.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 9/30/2008 - 6:39am
Great website! Many thanks. When I was working at the old Durham Sun in '86-'87, we'd occasionally organize a lunch expedition after the last deadline. Now and then we'd venture to what I guess was Nance's on Blackwell Street, which by then sat forlornly alone and nekkid across from American Tobacco. (I remember the building but can't remember the name of the eatery.) I frankly wasn't impressed with the buffet offerings, but some of my newspaper colleagues were more frugal and less picky. I don't have a precise recollection, but when American Tobacco shut down in 1987, I think Nance's closed too, and the building was soon torn down to make way for ...
Rumor had it that, around 1988-89, the Durham Herald Co.(which published both the Morning Herald and the afternoon Sun) had its eye on that huge American Tobacco parking lot that eventually became the DBAP. (The company had expanded its building on Chapel Hill Street in 1985-86, which led some employees to wonder why the company would consider erecting an expensive new building a few blocks away.) Eventually, after a lot of back-and-forth within upper management, the decision was made to forego a downtown location and move to paper's present site on the 15-501 Bypass.
Submitted by Alex (not verified) on Sat, 10/24/2009 - 3:04am
I am Maitland's daughter. My dad, who is now 70 years old, still looking not a day older than 3o,
recently opened up his own gym on ninth st. in durham. His gym is called "Maitland's Method". He has lifted weights for more than 57 years and finally has his own private gym to share his experiences in. Everyday he is helping people reach their lifetime goals, and changing lives.
I am so proud to say that my dad is Maitland Nance.
We love you Maitland.
Submitted by diana (not verified) on Wed, 9/28/2011 - 2:00am
Was Nance's the building that eventually turned into the Palace International...an African Dance Club in the mid 80's before the ballpark arrived....the Palace eventually moved to Parrish Street and now resides on Broad Street...
Submitted by John Dagenhart (not verified) on Wed, 9/28/2011 - 2:00am
There 'was' a placeon Blackwell Street called 'Nances' also and I think it was actually a cafeteria. I used to eat lunch there and get take out when I worked at the Duke Power Building that was also on Blackwell Street. My desk was in what was the hay loft for the horses when it was Durham Ice and Coal Company.
Submitted by Karen (not verified) on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 8:15pm
That was a great article for A. B. Morris Cafe. It was by far the best place to eat at that time. Being in the Morris family, I know first hand that they were great cooks and still are. A. B. Morris has three children, all living around Durham. His son, Buddy, has his father's family's BBQ sauce recipe, makes and sells it. For anyone that is interested, you can call Buddy on his cell 919-414-8861, for prices, purchasing and where to get it.
Submitted by Greg (not verified) on Tue, 2/18/2014 - 6:10pm
Regarding the previous comment, the name of the restaurant in the first sentence was Mayola's and it was largely a pizza and beer place. In the '60's 18 year-olds could drink the 3.2 beer that was served and Mayola's was one of the first introductions to booze for many freshman at Duke. The University Grill was just down the street and the Ivy Room was more of a place to eat than drink. All very fond memories. Bus to East Campus, a short walk to any of these three places....life was good!
Submitted by diana (not verified) on Wed, 9/28/2011 - 2:00am
It was the cafe where the American Tobacco employee's ate...When you look at it now, the ground has been built up so that only the top half of the restaurant shows is visible. As an example, you can see the bottom of the screen door as is is now buried under concrete I believe. I don't know the name of it though. My aunt who worked at 'the factory' as it was called, ate lunch there most days.
Submitted by Dr. Robert Levine (not verified) on Tue, 2/18/2014 - 8:59pm
I am planning to revisit Duke this coming October for Homecoming Weekend. I missed my 45 year reunion last year and was excited about the prospect of eating at A.B.'s and Bullock's. I remember the first time I walked into the wrong side of A.B.'s in 1964, when it was still segregated. A meat and 3 sides was $1.00 with 10 cents extra for a bottle of Dr. Pepper! Bullock's is still there and I can't wait to eat the brunswick stew and hush puppies. This article is sad, but, in its own way, brings back memories of a wonderful time in my life. Go Blue Devils!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/2/2011 - 2:00am
at ab morris cafe across from american tobacco we would leave durham high at lunch and run there to eat,only had 45/fourty five min..we would go in the basement door and get our trays and at the end of the line was a large bowl of huss puppies and we would snalk on them.great barbque and stew.then we would have to sneak back to class.
Submitted by Deloris Grayson (not verified) on Fri, 8/8/2014 - 9:12pm
My Late Mother and Aunt both were waitress's at Nance they served Tea and those great big hushpuppies that were the best in Durham, and the
food cooked by the Lane family was banging (great).
Submitted by SamF (not verified) on Thu, 8/8/2013 - 3:56pm
The restaurant where Anotherthyme, is located, was called Maola's(sp?), and it was owned and operated by Maitland's mother(my sister waited tables there in the 70's, while she was a student at DHS). Maitland did not own it. The family also ran the Top Hat, in West Durham. Maitland, did own Nance's Seafood(It was Turnage's BBQ, before Maitland bought it), on Morreene Rd., and at one time, was part owner of the Shrimp Boat. While he was the owner of Nance's Seafood, he was robbed and shot twice in the chest, at point blank range. The Doctors, said that his muscles saved his life. Nance's Cafeteria, closed not long after American Tobacco Co, closed. In the Nineties, Maitland, opened up two places called Nance's Takeout, and they did fairly well. After that, he pretty much devoted all of his time to bodybuilding. He has won several national titles, and is unequivocally, the father of modern bodybuilding in Durham. He now owns Maitland's Method, on Broad St.
Submitted by Bob White (not verified) on Wed, 8/27/2014 - 8:24pm
Those "cornbread cakes" were called "hush puppies" and along with that, unlimited "Sweet Tea" (sweet iced tea). Super butter beans, and a corn chowder. Gone are the great days.
Submitted by Jon Edwards (not verified) on Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:02pm
I too loved AB's....especially the BBQ and hush puppies.
Been trying to duplicate the hush puppies since 1972.
Found a similar recipe from another North Carolina spot but not quite as good as AB's.
Anybody have the original recipe for the AB's hush puppies from the late 60's-early 70's?
Add new commentLog in or register to post comments.