What's old is new again apparently. Opened in 1969, Shrimp Boats serves fried fish and Southern sides, but ironically, they are known for their fried chicken. Shrimp Boats has always been a building you can't miss driving down Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard. It was painted seventies-esque red and yellow until recently, when it was repainted for the first time in decades to the current aqua/orange combo, which I kind of dig. In an attempt to find out more about their history I went to their website, which is under construction. And I know that they've been trying out new, healthier items. This would all normally point to new ownership, but according to tax records it has been the same owner since at least 2006, which is as far back as a quick internet search will get me.
As a former restaurant consultant and manager (including at Foster's right across the street), I applaud the owners for making smart moves at the perfect time. I live in Rockwood, and encounter a traffic jam of people and cars all converging on Nana's, Q Shack, Nano Taco, and Thai Cafe nightly. Families walk in from every direction and cars pull of the road into the ditch to park. Shrimp Boats could easily be getting some of that traffic. And closer still to their location is Guglhupf and Foster's Market, which both (somewhat) recently went through big renovations of their own. It's a great opportunity for them to retain the downhome goodness of Shrimp Boats while making a more modern attempt to the decor and menu, which, frankly, needed it.
Here's a photo of what the building looked llike until recently.
For such a food-centric town, there is quite a lack of what I'll call "institutions" still around. I am having trouble coming up with any restaurant that's been around longer than the 1960's in Durham. Dillard's, may it rest in peace, was on the list of oldest continually operating restaurants until its demise in the last 2 years. Paschalls (1960's), Wimpy's(1970) , Honey's (1960), Bullocks (1970 in that location, 1950's elsewhere), Chicken Hut (1968) and Shrimp Boats (1969) are the only one's that come to mind, none of which are THAT old. I wish that Durham had something like the Mecca in Raleigh, where time stops when you walk inside. The state of the Paschall's building frightens me (although time has stopped there, I'll give it that), and Honey's property is listed as owned by a gas station company, which cannot be good. If Shrimp Boats plays their cards right they just may be able to hold the title of Durham's oldest resturant if those other food institutions falter.
Submitted by Mary Ann (not verified) on Sat, 10/11/2014 - 6:32pm
In reply to I really hope they haven't changed the menu too mu by PR (not verified)
I ate there frequently in the late 70's/early 80's and that was great!
Submitted by gary on Wed, 8/29/2012 - 11:45pm
Karen - great entry! As far as I know, Bullock's is still alive and kicking. Unless something has happened of late that I'm unaware of, the oldest-restaurants-in-Durham-still-operating title(s) would go to Bullock's (although only at their current location since 1970) and the Chicken Hut on Fayetteville, formerly known as the Chicken Box. (although at their current location only since ~1968.)
Submitted by M.K. Ramm on Thu, 8/30/2012 - 5:04am
Bullock's is fine and dandy. The Durham FM Association meets there the first Tuesday of every month except July. There are lots of other customers there on those nights. Our daughter goes there fairly often and says they are always busy.
The food is still very, very good.
Submitted by Karen on Thu, 8/30/2012 - 8:10am
You are correct. Bullock's is alive and kicking. Oops! I could've sworn someone told me over a year ago they had closed. That's what I get for listening to other people! Guess I know where I'm having lunch this weekend!?
Submitted by Robby on Thu, 8/30/2012 - 7:53pm
I hated to see this happen This was a rare intact example of the Shrimp Boats chain. They were based out of Albany? GA.This is was the only intact example I have encountered that was still in business with origional signage although the lantern/flame was long gone. Finding this all intact is like finding a golden arched Mcdonalds or a pagoda Hardees still in business. Vintage fast food or other commerical buildings from the 60s are almost extinct in their origional form Because of signage laws and wanting to blend in these will never return.
Submitted by Karen on Thu, 8/30/2012 - 10:44pm
Robby- I never realized Shrimp Boats was a chain. If you can remember any more info that would help me in a search, I'd love to add more to the posting on Shrimp Boats' history. I have an odd love for vintage fast food kitsch!
I've seen numerous places called "Shrimp Boat" (singular). I called it that for my first 5 years in Durham until I was corrected. Other things every Yankee moving into Durham is corrected on: 1. Barbeque is a food not an activity 2. Wilson is pronounced Wiltson 3. A toboggan is a hat not a sled 4. Even if you're not a sports fan, you NEED to pick Duke or UNC
Submitted by Mary Ann (not verified) on Sat, 10/11/2014 - 6:31pm
In reply to Robby- I never realized by Karen
Well...everything you mentioned is correct except the reference to Wilson. The people from Wilson call it "Wiltson," but those of us from Durham, call it "Wilson." At least I do, but I do love the accents and dialects. It keeps our country interesting and distinct.
Submitted by Eric Heidt (not verified) on Fri, 8/31/2012 - 4:35pm
Definitely part of a chain: there was a Shrimp Boats in Athens GA in the late 80s/early 90s, that was coverted around then to a chinese retaurant called "China Boat." They modified the existing sign (and apparently pulled the 'S' off the end), but other than that it looked exactly like our Shrimp Boats. Judging from the photo in the link below, they modified the front more substantially in later years (but the old 'Boats won't be denied- you can still se the old structure under the newer stuff). Unfortunately this one is not as lucky as Durham's Boats and is no longer in business.
Submitted by Karen on Fri, 8/31/2012 - 10:31pm
The detailing on the roof is identical! Thanks for the info!
Submitted by Robby on Sat, 9/1/2012 - 1:27pm
The earlier buildings looked like boats. The building in Durham is the same as Tarpon Springs FL, Raleigh NC and also Florance SC. They were around Atlanta also.They make great used car lots.
Submitted by PR (not verified) on Tue, 2/26/2013 - 6:15am
I really hope they haven't changed the menu too much. Their southern food is amazing. I grew up across the street in Yorktown. The late 80s/early 90s were the best: dinner at shrimp boats and a movie at the Yorktown Twin. then back down the hill home. All within a short walk.
Submitted by Amy (not verified) on Fri, 8/30/2013 - 11:53am
When did Wimpy's close?!?!?
Submitted by Jay Meade (not verified) on Thu, 4/11/2013 - 12:33pm
Gary, I am friends with those who started the Shrimp Boats, and have asked them to visit the site and help with your research as they can.
Submitted by Special_Guest (not verified) on Fri, 6/21/2013 - 6:51pm
There was an article in the Herald-Sun many years ago - don't remember the exact time period, but the paper may be able to help if someone is researching. It discussed how the restaurant was a chain, and was sold many times but always reverted back to the original owners. I also wish they had kept the original signage.
I grew up in Durham, and I ate many a meal at this place as a child. I may visit Shrimp Boats the next time I'm in town for old times' sake.
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