The popular Durham restaurant moves to Brightleaf Square

DURHAM, NC — A popular Durham restaurant moves to Brightleaf Square.

The owners of Zweli’s, a family-owned Zimbabwean restaurant, announced via social media on Sunday that it would be the last business day at their original location in Oakcreek Village.

Chef Zweli Williams and her husband Leonardo “Leo” Williams opened Zweli’s Kitchen at 4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. in 2018.

“Five years later, we are still growing,” the couple post on social media, “However, our growth has made us realize that we control our future and difficult situations call for difficult decisions. But they also create new opportunities.”

The pair said they would “exhibit resilience” over the coming months as they move Zweli’s Kitchen to Brightleaf Square and a second restaurant, Zweli’s Ekhaya, on American Tobacco Campus. The couple also operate Zweli’s Cafe at Duke University’s Divinity School.

Zweli’s House, which will be located in the old Saladelia space in the Crowe Lobby, was announced in 2021. The restaurant will feature a tapas menu focusing on the delicacies of the indigenous Bantu ethnic groups from across Africa.

How it all started

Zweli grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where she began her culinary interest by learning to prepare dishes using the variety of ingredients available. After high school, she moved to the United States and attended North Carolina Central University, where she met Leo Williams. Williams was head drum major of the NCCU marching band and later became a teacher and administrator of Durham Public Schools. In his educational career, he was named “Teacher of the Year”.

After being unable to find a restaurant serving Zimbabwean food, Zweli was inspired to open her own restaurant. Though turned down for loans, the couple used Williams’ retirement money and Zweli’s parents’ money to open Zweli’s Piri Piri Kitchen in 2018.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple teamed up with other local small business owners to raise more than $3 million for a fund to keep those businesses open.

The couple has coordinated nearly 100,000 meals before and after the pandemic to serve the displaced, elderly and homeless.

“We have had the very fortunate opportunity to work with dozens and dozens of restaurateurs and thousands of entrepreneurs on the American Tobacco Campus and American Underground,” said Adam Klein, director of American Tobacco Campus. “Zweli and Leo represent the best of Durham. They are creative, dedicated, caring and above all, community oriented. We are honored that they chose to share their journey with us and participate in ours.”

Note: The American Tobacco Campus is owned and operated by WRAL’s parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Company.