Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 03:07:27 -0400
The first time Melissa Lunden ate at Pepper’s Pizza was on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We just sat here and drank multiple pitchers of beer and ate pizza because we just didn’t want to watch any more TV,” Lunden said.
On Monday, Lunden had one final meal at the pizzeria with her two sons.
After 26 years of serving Franklin Street patrons, Pepper’s Pizza closed its doors Monday night for good.
The restaurant, which opened in 1987 and moved to its current location at 107 E. Franklin St. seven years ago, has faced declining business and increased competition vying for student customers.
Owner David “Pepper” Harvey said he made the decision to close after difficulties paying off a loan.
“I had a bank loan that I haven’t been able to pay and the bank’s coming and foreclosing on my equipment,” Harvey said. “This morning, they called and said sometime this week they’re going to close.”
Harvey said Pepper’s has struggled to bring in customers from UNC in recent years.
While in the past students made up a large part of the restaurant’s customer base, Harvey said expanded on-campus dining options have hurt local restaurants.
“Business has been slow down here for three years,” he said. “There’s no people downtown. Since Aramark took over the food service over on campus, they pretty much locked up the people on campus. They shortened the lunch break so the kids don’t have a chance to leave and opened all those new cafeterias and put those franchises on campus.”
He said lunch traffic has been one of the restaurant’s biggest losses.
“Lunch is the biggest thing where we’ve lost our business — we probably do $20,000 less a month in lunch than we were doing three years ago,” he said.
“There’s just nobody down here. And I’m not the lone ranger, you can talk to anybody down here and they’ll tell you the same story.”
David Wehrenberg and Kelly Lane of Chapel Hill took their daughter to Pepper’s Monday night. Both said they were sad she would not get to grow up visiting the restaurant.
“This’ll be my daughter’s first and last time,” Wehrenberg said.
Yolanda Leslee, a waitress at Pepper’s, moved to Chapel Hill from New Jersey two months ago after losing her home in Hurricane Sandy. She said she was grateful to find a job at Pepper’s soon after.
“When I went looking for a job up and down Franklin Street, this is the last place I came in,” she said. “I was like, ‘It would be just too good to be true to get a job at Pepper’s.’ And I came in and they hired me, and then a month later…”
Leslee and Harvey both said they were concerned about finding jobs after the closure.
“I’ve never worked for anybody in life — I’ve been doing this for 26 years,” Harvey said. “I’m going to be looking for a job at age 60.”
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