Scott Crawford readily admits it’s been a hell of a year.
In early October 2015, Crawford and developer John Holmes opened Standard Foods, their much-ballyhooed, much-delayed, and very ambitious restaurant and connected community grocery. Holmes intended for it to be an anchor of the blooming Person Street corridor. For several months, it was, with steady reservations and a James Beard nomination for Crawford after only five months in business.
But only a month after that nod, Crawford announced that he would leave in May due to differences in vision and velocity with Holmes. He was taking the skeleton of the staff with him, too. In May, Crawford revealed plans for a new restaurant, Crawford & Son, just a few blocks away; a week later, Standard closed in order to find his replacement, a process that shuttered the place until early October. Crawford’s entirely new restaurant, the comfortable sixty-seat Crawford & Son, will open in the former PieBird space at 618 Person Street just three weeks later, as early as Tuesday, Nov. 1. It will mark his debut as principal owner.
“A lot has happened in the last year,” Crawford says slowly and with a smile from one of the back tables of the slim space, where a shiny black banquette runs the length of the dining room. “Taking all that into consideration, I am in a great place.”
In order to get to this great place, Crawford had to acknowledge a few things. First, after being an itinerant and celebrated chef who could bound between lavish hotel kitchens, he had to recognize that Raleigh was home. During his stint at The Umstead, he and his family of four had settled onto a spread of a few acres several miles outside of downtown Raleigh. That’s where they wanted to remain, even when offers began rolling in from other cities after Crawford’s Standard exit.
“We would have been leaving home, and we were only going to do that if it was necessary,” says Crawford. “One of the opportunities was in Charleston. My wife’s family is there. But even my wife, Jessica, said she would prefer to stay here, at home, and for me to do a restaurant of my own.”
The second fact was that Crawford wanted to be back in the kitchen, quickly and regularly. In past jobs, such as his in his role at The Umstead, he’d run massive regimens with more than one hundred employees. But that removed him from the kitchen, just as spending a year and a million dollars renovating any of the half-dozen larger Raleigh spaces he visited after leaving Standard threatened to do.
Instead, he wanted a room he could turn into a restaurant on a strict timeline and on a manageable budget, especially after the delays at Standard. He and his staff scoured listings for high-quality, secondhand equipment and made thrifty use of what PieBird had left behind. Architect and friend Louis Cherry helped ensure the parts moved on time.
“I have control here. So, going into this project, I was able to tell everyone I was sensitive with delays this time. I don’t like them. I like cooking,” he says. “So there was a handshake agreement with the goal that we would be open by fall. And it’s fall.”
Part of Crawford’s mission with Crawford & Son is to become a neighborhood restaurant. He speaks about his desire to create dishes people crave, so that those who live nearby feel compelled to walk there more than once a week. For him, that trust is the ultimate compliment as a chef.
To help foster that relationship, Crawford & Son is a cozy room, where exposed brick walls and big black steel beams balance svelte soapstone tables and the clean lines of the bar. Generations of staff family photos hang in the rear, an attempt to welcome everyone in. After all, the place is named in part for Crawford’s nine-year-old son, Jiles, who already wants to work in the kitchen. (And for those worried, Crawford slyly guarantees his six-year-old daughter, Jolie, will get a restaurant name of her own one day. Crawford & Son includes a large office, so as to serve as headquarters for “future growth.”)
“I have come full circle. I don’t care to run enormous operations in hotels. I want to cook in this kitchen every night,” he says. “I want to make food. I want to connect with people. And I think we can do that here.”
To that end, the menu is simple and minimal—just two pages, with the run of food on the front and drinks on the back. The selections fall into five basic categories, with appetizers and raw starters followed by entrees and sides and pastry chef Krystle Swenson’s “Leave Room” column of desserts. Every evening, Crawford will include a small blue-plate specials addendum, with homey and slightly less pricey options for appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
When it opens next week, Crawford & Son will settle directly into the heart of fall, with a rabbit pot pie, venison meatloaf, and an “Autumn Roots” plate of foraged mushrooms and savory granola. The small, efficient kitchen will offer Parmesan grits and parsnip soup, roasted apples and sorrel hummus. (See a sample blue-plate menu here.)
“This is the food I want to be eating, the food I want to be cooking. To me, it’s very approachable but, at the same time, exciting,” Crawford says. “We figure if we want to eat it, other people may want to eat it. And that’s the approach we’re taking.”