Parker and Otis in Durham, NCParker and Otis is a specialty food store located in historic downtown Durham, NC, open seven days a week—serving breakfast and lunch with basic groceries, gourmet foods, cheese, wine, coffee, tea, and candy.
Partners in business and in life, Jennings Brody and Jonathan Kea opened Parker and Otis with the help of their friends and family. Their focus on local ingredients and local purveyors is a reflection of the love they have for the community and the abundance of delicious food items available in the great state of North Carolina. Every breakfast and bakery item from scones to cakes is prepared in-house using local eggs from Latta’s Egg Ranch in Hillsborough, NC, and dairy products from Homeland Creamery in Julian, NC. Sandwiches are made with bread baked fresh daily at the Rue Cler Bakery on Main Street in Durham. Parker and Otis partnered with Counter Culture Coffee to bring customers the best-roasted coffee beans and artisanal coffee drinks around.
Q: How long have you been open?
Right around two years.
Q: What made you want to open Parker and Otis? What was your inspiration?
For years, we wanted to open our own food business. We love to cook, eat, and entertain people, and Parker and Otis was just a natural progression of that. Day to day contact with our regular customers, who really are some of the nicest people you will ever meet, keeps us coming back to work everyday.
Q: What did you do before operating this business (career before coffee)?
Jennings started her career with Williams-Sonoma in New York City, went on to manage Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, NC, and then worked in sales for a specialty food distributor. Jonathan swung a hammer throughout college and today works in IT for a healthcare organization. In a business like ours, you learn to wear many hats, and our lives before Parker and Otis helped us in that respect.
Q: What kind of establishment is Parker and Otis?
We are primarily a specialty food store carrying gourmet items, wine, beer, candy, baked goods, and a full-service coffee bar featuring our favorite Durham coffee roaster, Counter Culture Coffee. We also serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner featuring an eclectic choice of fresh sandwiches and prepared foods.
Q: Tell us about your customers: what kind of demographic do you cater most to? Are you a destination location or more of a neighborhood establishment? When are your busiest times and why?
We cater to residents and people working in and around downtown Durham, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods, although we meet plenty of out-of-towners, too. We are busiest at breakfast and lunch because the people of downtown Durham are working hard and need a place to refuel or just relax with a cup of coffee and eat some delicious food! Our Sunday morning brunch crowd has grown to epic proportions.
Q: Paint us a visual picture of Parker and Otis.
We are located in the historic Brightleaf District of Durham, NC, so the architecture of our space is reminiscent of the renovated tobacco warehouses that surround our location. Most folks enter the store via the porch which also serves as an excellent outdoor dining space. Once you enter the building, the first thing you see is the coffee bar and then make your way past the sandwich counter to browse our gourmet food section and wine department. The space itself is nothing short of spectacular at 8,000 square feet—with reconditioned pine floors, brick walls, 30-foot ceilings, and four massive skylights that bring lots of good sunshine in to our space.
Q: Tell us about your menu, and most popular/favorite/quirkiest item on it.
In conjunction with our own Counter Culture espresso blend, we use hormone-free local milk from a local, family-owned dairy in all of our coffee drinks. The freshness of their product makes it the best tasting and frothing milk ever. It is simply delicious. At lunch time one of our most popular menu items is our grilled pimento cheese sandwich, to which you can also add bacon and/or tomato. We like it all the way.
Q: Okay, so who exactly are Parker and Otis? How do they inspire you? How many times a day are you asked who they are?
Parker is a family name and Otis is our 12 year-old-pug. Grandma Parker is dearly departed but Otis still lives on to this day. There is no better dog I would rather sit on the couch with and watch Food Network or a football game while shelling pecans. Otis’s favorite on-air personality is Ina Garten, of whom we are huge fans.