Bryan Diver is brewing a Moroccan mint tea as a stream of cars speed by the Respite Cafe’s wide Duke Street windows. A half-dozen customers are immersed in their laptops. Six minutes passed, and he finally poured the tea over ice.
“I’m going to miss it,” says Diver, who has worked here three years. “The customers, my colleagues.”
On a calendar in the employee area of the cafe, each day is marked with an employee’s initial. On Saturday, June 25, there's a “B”—that's Diver.
“I’m the one who’s going to turn out the lights,” he says.
After four and a half years, Respite Cafe is closing.
“There are a variety of reasons for this, but essentially it boils down to energy,” wrote owner Courtney Brown on the cafe’s Instagram
pages. “The lease was up, and after evaluating the proposed increase and the struggle with the building, I decided my best option was to move or let it go.”
The financial fortunes of businesses near Brightleaf Square have been mixed. On this square block, Torero’s has thrived. The Chesterfield Building at Duke and Main streets is being renovated, an $80 million project. But Fishmonger’s closed late last year because of tax problems. Triangle Brewing Company's Pint and Plate never made a real go and quietly shut down. Bull City Co-Working on South Duke Street is also gone.
Respite's ninety-one-year-old building at 115 N. Duke St., once housed a Studebaker dealership, and the vintage black-and-white checkerboard floor is original. The building is owned by 2050 Bentley LLC, whose main offices are in Los Angeles; David Revere, the company manager, lives in Chapel Hill. Respite faces a one-way street and a blank brick building belonging to Duke University and several of its corporate offices. There are only a handful of parking spaces on the west side of the street.
Respite was the only reason to walk up that street, and plenty of people did.
“When I was asked what I wanted prior to opening Respite, I mentioned I wanted to create a space for the community, and with the help of everyone who has worked here, we did,” Brown wrote.
An “old men’s club” regularly gathered here to kvetch about the state of the world. Diver remembers his other regulars—the man who always orders a cookie and a water, another whose favorite drink is a large red-eye.
A Respite employee, Ali Linn, has announced that she wants to open a coffee shop, although the location has not been determined. In the meantime, Diver plans to continue working as a caretaker for adults with disabilities. He also interns with World Relief, which helps resettle refugees in Durham.
His primary concern for Respite, he says, is the customers: “Where’s everyone going to go?”