Hillsborough is getting ready to expand its palette. Late next month, Nomad will open in downtown on King Street, offering a global dining experience unlike anything else in the area.
“I think this town is ready for this,” said B.J. Patel, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Smita, and his brother, Sejal. “With its proximity to Chapel Hill, Durham, Carrboro we definitely bring in an educated palette. People are more open to different cuisines. Not just meat and potatoes. I definitely think that once they get in here and try the flavors, they’ll keep coming back.”
And there will be a plethora of flavors. Patel and his brother already own and operate Viceroy in Durham, a restaurant known for its British/Indian dishes. Nomad will pay tribute to their family’s nomadic lifestyle and show appreciation for flavors and ingredients they were exposed to from their travels. The brothers hope Nomad will make clear their love and appreciation for various cultures.
“At Nomad, we’re thinking global tapas. Small plates,” B.J. Patel said. “We’ll take flavors from India, Korea, Thailand, South America, Europe and infuse all the flavors with modern day dishes. It might be a Korean nacho. It could be a curried korma poutine. Our chef, R.J. St. John, is half Irish and half Korean. He knows how to give a dish a new twist.
“We’ve done a few pop-ups in town to test the market,” he said. “It gives people the chance to try out our food for free, and it gives us a chance to see what the response is, even if it is on a small scale. We got to talk to folks and and ask them what they would like to see. What they would want in a restaurant.”
While the menu at Nomad will reflect the history of its owners, the location of the restaurant will reflect the history of the town. Nearly 100 years ago, the building was home to the Osbunn Theatre. The Patels, along with the building’s owners, Jim Parker and George Horton, and Gus Mixon, the general contractor, have worked together create a design that preserves as much of the movie theater as possible.
The exaggerated overhang at the building’s entrance will again be adorned with the Osbunn name. The original box office, which was found in the upstairs of the building, has been re-installed near the entrance. The original box office door has been hung again.
“As much as possible, we will incorporate characteristics of the original theater,” B.J. Patel said. “We have some of the original light fixtures, but we have to make sure they’re up to code before we can safely use them. We’d love to get our hands on some of the original seating from the theater. We found ticket stubs, popcorn containers and soda bottles. Even a movie poster. We’re planning to create a unique centerpiece for the bar with radiators from the building. We’re trying to be creative in incorporating the history of the space into the restaurant.”
The Osbunn originally operated as a segregated movie theater, with white theatergoers using the lower-level seats, while the African-American audience sat in the mezzanine. When work on the building began in June 2019, the original mezzanine was considered unsafe and could not be salvaged. While new flooring and stairs have been installed, the exposed brick revealed indications of the original features, including the railing and balcony.
“The plan is to make the upstairs area look like the original balcony,” B.J. Patel said.
Nick Singh, managing partner of Nomad, said the history of the space has him beaming with excitement.
“The history of this building, being able to dig around and expose what was here 100 years ago, it gives me a really good feeling. Knowing that we’re going to revive a part of Hillsborough’s history is invigorating.”
Reviving Hillsborough’s history is becoming something of a trend, as is the case just a few feet away from Nomad.
“We are hugely excited about what’s going on at the Colonial Inn,” Singh said. “We’ve already been in discussions about future projects together. Having the community support has been incredible. It’s what’s made this experience so much fun.”
Fun and historic preservation do not always go together, but Singh said he has no regrets with this venture.
“This is probably the first project in which I could say that,” he said. “This is my fourth. It’s the community, but it’s also the team. Not only are we business partners, but we’re also good friends. We’ve known each other a long time. We have such good rapport.”
“A lot of people get scared going into historical buildings because of all the work that has to be done right off the bat,” said B.J. Patel. “But is it really too much work? I think it’s about getting creative with it. We feel like we’ve found our niche in being creative and working outside the box with where we choose to create restaurants. Viceroy is also in a historic building.”
“We go into this project knowing a lot will have to be done or re-done from scratch,” Singh said. “But that means it’s going to last a long time. We’re not going to have a surprise a year and a half down the line that costs us $30,000.”
“We’re not gutting,” Patel added. “We’re trying to preserve the history of the building as much as we can. But at the same time, we want to make it look up to date and modern.
“There will a space for a community table near the bar at the front of the restaurant. In the area that once housed seats and the movie screen will be a formal dining area. Lots of exposed brick and exposed beams and ductwork. A state-of-the-art kitchen is being installed. Upstairs will be additional dining, or private dining if someone wants to rent it out for a party or private gathering. Seating capacity hasn’t been worked out just yet, but we’re hoping for around 70.”
“Jim Parker, who owns the building, has been nothing but great to us,” Patel said. “They’ve been wonderful to work with. They’re all about doing what’s for the greater good of the town.
“We’ve been looking at Hillsborough for the last two years. This is a great market for this type of restaurant. Hillsborough has a Hallmark feel to it. We think the people are ready for it. There’s nothing like this here.”