Dan Durant says goodbye to eatery he had co-owned since 2007; new owners plan to ‘keep everything as is’
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
Brothers’ Restaurant, an Ashland institution for nearly a half century, has been sold to — wait for it — brothers.
Dan Durant and his partner, David Newton, sold the popular 95 N. Main St. eatery to José and Miguel de la Cruz, effective Jan. 1.
The restaurant was founded in 1976 by Brent Brady and his best friend; hence, the name Brothers. They sold it four years later to Bob Evoniuk and Beth Levin, who operated it for 26 years before selling it to Durant and Newton in 2007.
When Durant and Newton bought the restaurant, a newspaper headline proclaimed: “Ashland institution, Brothers’ Restaurant, changes hands.”
No pressure there.
Durant has acknowledged that the previous owners handed over a very successful business with a strong local following. Respectful of the tried and true on the menu, Durant limited changes, introducing specials now and then as a way of expressing his own culinary experiences and tastes.
‘Blintzes? Keep ’em!’
“When I bought the restaurant,” Durant said, “I remember a lady pointing her finger at me and saying, ‘Don’t you dare take the cheese blintzes off the menu!’”
The decadent treat is still on the menu. The tasty pastry is composed of house-made crepes filled with cottage cheese, cream cheese, lemon, and vanilla, served with sour cream and preserves. Some customers add strawberries and whipped cream for a small surcharge.
Durant, 65, was the operating partner of Brothers’. Newton is a retired college chemistry professor and a widely published science writer.
“I always thought I’d stick with it until I was 70,” Durant said. “But, as it turns out, there’s a reason most folks try to retire at the age of 65. Physically, it became difficult, and I decided it was important for me to take care of myself.”
José de la Cruz, 34, lives in Medford. His brother, Miguel, 44, is a Talent resident. They were born and raised in a small town in Mexico, Miguel moving to the Rogue Valley when he was 16 and José when he was 11.
The two come from a large family, with seven sisters and five other brothers, many with restaurant connections.
A family tradition
Two of their brothers have operated Mexican restaurants in the Rogue Valley — Juan, who owns El Arriero in Medford, and Salvador, who operated La Casa del Pueblo for 20 years in Ashland. Miguel and José took over La Casa and renamed it Puerto Mazatlan.
“Juan has been my inspiration,” José said. “He has helped me so much to achieve my dreams, and I will always be thankful to him.”
José has worked in the family restaurant business since he was 16, starting as a dishwasher, later working as a cook, chef, waiter and manager.
“Now I can do anything when it comes to the restaurant business,” he said. “I love my work. It’s my passion.”
Durant said he was excited for José.
“He is about half my age, so has twice the energy,” he said. “Together, with his brother, Miguel, they intend to keep the menu and the employees the same.”
José says it will be a challenge to fill the shoes of the retiring owner.
“Dan is an amazing person,” José said. “He made it work for us. He helped us a lot.”
Durant and José trained together at the restaurant the last few weeks of 2023 to help acquaint the new owner to Brothers’ procedures and practices.
“I’m excited to see how many locals he knows,” Durant said. “I feel confident that he will carry on the important position that Brothers’ Restaurant holds in the Ashland community.”
No major changes
The new owners plan no major changes, although, like Durant, they may introduce some new dishes in the future.
“We are planning to keep everything as is,” José said. “I love what I have seen so far. And we have such a good team.”
The restaurant has been operated historically as a breakfast and lunch place. The new owners plan to extend hours into the afternoon beginning in mid-April, José said.
Durant is originally from Wilmington, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
He had his own early experience running a kitchen.
“When my mom went back to work when I was 15, I took over cooking for the whole family,” he said. “There were eight of us.”
He and Newton moved to San Francisco in 1983 where Durant worked as a systems administrator for a major law firm.
A foodie for years
Durant’s interest in food runs deep. During the past 30 years, he has subscribed to many cooking magazines, looking for new ideas and keeping up with culinary trends. He even took classes at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
While living in the Bay Area, Durant and Newton enjoyed annual trips to Ashland to enjoy the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, staying at Country Willows Inn, a historic 1896 farmhouse on five acres just south of town.
After about 10 years, they decided to call it quits in San Francisco, sell their house, and buy a B&B. When they shared their plans with Country Willows’ owners Bill and Barbara Huntley, they were surprised to learn from the couple that they had decided to sell Country Willows.
That bit of serendipity was followed by some hard work to finalize a deal and their moving to Ashland in 1993 to take over the establishment.
“We operated the inn for 11 years and sold it in 2004,” Durant said.
Durant took a few years off to build a house. Ready for his next challenge, he found himself struggling a bit to reinvent himself.
“At first, I thought I’d like to flip houses,” he said. “Actually, I did flip one. But soon I realized that was too much work.”
He finally decided that Brothers’ was the perfect operation for him and closed the deal in 2007.
At one point, he had sworn off the idea of owning a restaurant — not because he didn’t like the work, but because he didn’t like the hours, often entailing working nights and weekends.
Brothers’ limited-hours operation was the perfect match for Durant. He found it very manageable and loved what he did.
“Historically, I have been present at the restaurant five days a week,” he said. “As I got older, I tapered back, but have always been in and out throughout the week. I think owner-occupied businesses really stand out and people notice.”
The de la Cruz brothers look forward to carrying on the traditions at Brothers’ Restaurant.
“We promise to give it our best,” José said. “Our goal is for Brothers’ to continue to be the best breakfast place in Ashland.”
For more information about the restaurant — hours, menu items, and prices — go to brothersrestaurant.net.
Reach writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.