Students arriving on campus this week will find that a new dining option has replaced the popular Law Refectory Cafe.
The new restaurant, called Cafe de Novo, is operated by Sam Clowney and Chris Holloway—the same partnership behind Bella Union and Pitchfork Provisions, which was recently renamed Cafe Edens.
“It’s been a great first month,” said Director of Dining Services Robert Coffey. “I've enjoyed items from the salmon caesar salad to the fresh hand cut fries. Chef Chris and his culinary team have put together a great menu with great pricing.”
The café features a coffee bar, ready-made hot food items and daily specials from a hot buffet.
The Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee co-chairs, senior Gregory Lahood and junior Brian Taylor, both said it is too early to gauge general student reactions, but they said their own experiences with the cafe have been positive.
“I’m impressed by what they have done with the space,” Lahood said. “I ate lunch there multiple times over the past month or so and was impressed by the breadth of the menu, the value and the quality of the food.”
Clowney said the cafe accommodates those in a hurry because average ticket times on made-to-order items from the grill were approximately four minutes over the summer. He said he hopes to keep that below seven minutes during peak hours.
“You get your food really quickly, but the quality is still high,” said sophomore Laura Valentine, who ordered the steak tacos, which were a daily special. “The specials are fresh, and it’s exciting that they’ll always be changing.”
Clowney said some of the most popular items so far have been the daily specials and the hand cut fries. The menu will continue to grow and change in coming months.
The space's former tenant, the Law Refectory Cafe, had been on campus since 2008. It was launched after the success of its sister restaurant, the Refectory Cafe in the Divinity School, and the pair became popular with many students and faculty—named the "Best of Duke" seven times.
The Refectory Cafe in the Divinity School closed in 2012 after disagreements between owner Laura Hall and Duke Dining. It was replaced by the Divinity Refectory—a new restaurant under different management. Hall alleged that the Divinity Refectory's name and recipes were too similar to that of the Refectory Cafe in the Divinity School, and in 2013, she filed a legal complaint against Duke and the Refectory.
Several months later, Hall learned that her contract for the Law Refectory Cafe had not been renewed.
A five-person committee, including representatives from the School of Law, then led the search for a new vendor. Three finalists were invited to campus to present their program and menu samples, and Café de Novo was selected in June, Coffey previously told The Chronicle.
“Chris is very creative with food, and loves to foster a team atmosphere in the kitchen, welcoming all ideas from cooks and sous chefs,” Clowney said of the restaurant's chef. “Cafe De Novo has a wonderful kitchen and we are excited about our ability to expand our catering opportunities across campus.”
He said the quick opening wouldn’t have been possible without the faculty and staff in the law school.
“Opening was an enormous challenge,” Clowney said. “We moved in on Tuesday, July 1 and opened the café Wednesday, July 9. This would have been an impossible undertaking anywhere else in the world. The faculty and staff in the law school have been wonderful.”