Historic King’s Sandwich Shop back in business

By Sarah Ross
UNC Co-Editor
the Durham VOICE

It is a story all too common today: a corner mom and pop shop fallen into disrepair over the past years. Not often do these places get a second chance, but the newly renovated and reopened King’s Sandwich Shop is here to show what revitalization can do to an area.

T.J. McDermott has reason to smile -- after working on the renovation of King's Sandwich Shop for a year, the historic fixture opened this summer in Durham to great fanfare. (Staff photo by Sarah Ross)

Any Durham native knows King’s is a landmark in the city. First opened in 1942, the shop has been serving up fresh hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and shakes since the booming days of the tobacco districts. King’s shut down in January 2007, and without the attention of now owner T.J. McDermott this corner may have been abandoned for good.

“We wanted to bring a piece of Durham history back to life, and King’s is just that,” McDermott said.

The shop reopened Aug. 3, and according to McDermott has received great support from the community throughout renovations and now on the customer end as well. Driving by King’s any day during lunchtime one can glimpse the diverse crowd lined around the shop, often with McDermott out front taking people’s food orders to help keep the line moving.

“I was so glad to see them open again,” Carolyn Dunston-Gonzalez said. She recounted her days working at Kwik-Kar Wash in 1962, which at the time was right down the street from the shop. “Every day we would come down here, and of course you had to get King’s,” she said.

One of McDermott’s main goals in reopening the shop was retaining as many of its original qualities as possible. From the outside, with its red awnings and white painted building, to the inside with the sunburst pattern backsplash and a milkshake machine he found inside during renovations, King’s has the classic look it always has.

Though McDermott, only having lived in Durham for four years, never got the chance to eat at the original King’s, Durham natives and friends have helped him throughout the process to make sure everything lives up to the King’s standard.

“First thing I told him is, you’ve got to have good chili, good Southern chili,” Cecil Woods, a native of the surrounding neighborhoods and life-long Durham resident, said. “And he got that. He does things right. He told me, ‘I’m not going to do anything second class.’”

McDermott was well aware of the high bar when he started this project, and as people have continuously come by and each shared personal stories, his dedication to King’s has grown. One can expect to be greeted by a friendly smile from one of the at least seven employees working at all times. When hiring, McDermott said he made a point to find previously unemployed workers who would feel as passionate as he does about maintaining the King’s tradition.

“There was a sense of responsibility to this place and to Durham,” McDermott said. “I’m blessed with great employees. It’s not just a job, you’re participating in something bigger than yourself.”

King’s is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shop has retained the family-run atmosphere, while adding new touches such as an outdoor seating area. McDermott and his wife, Maggie, also started a development group that he hopes can buy property to help revitalize other neglected parts of the city in the future. But for now, all his energy is on King’s, and for that, Durham thanks him.

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