Carolina Coffee Shop, a 95-year-old institution, for sale on Franklin


Carolina Coffee Shop has served Chapel Hill residents and students as the longest continuously operating restaurant in North Carolina since 1922. 

“They told me that the first time they met they got set up by a mutual friend while they were all in school here, and this was the meeting place,” Austin said.

After hearing this story, he’s not sure why anyone would want to erase those memories.

Yet the fate of Carolina Coffee Shop is uncertain: The 95-year-old establishment is for sale.

Since 1922, Carolina Coffee Shop has served Chapel Hill residents and students alike as the longest continuously operating restaurant in North Carolina.

Austin, now general manager of the shop, said he was not surprised by the owners’ decision to sell the restaurant. After functioning as “absentee owners” for the past several years, Austin said the ownership group decided to go public with the sale to attract investors.

The sale, which does not include the restaurant’s building, is being handled by National Restaurant Properties, a broker firm based out of the Triangle area. Online postings list the asking price at $145,000.

Neal DePersia, one of the firm’s brokers, said the listing price is in line with similar establishments, which tend to sell from anywhere between $100,000 to $200,000.

“It all depends on equipment, the lease, the location, the assets, the sale and the earnings,” DePersia said.

Since news of the sale went public, Austin said he has seen mixed reactions from customers.

“Since we went public, some people have been really concerned,” Austin said. “Some think it’s awesome and that this will be great for us, some just have said, ‘Please don’t do away with the French onion soup.’ It’s been a mixed bag of genuine emotion in regards to personal ties to this establishment.”

Nikolaus Reasor, a UNC first-year, said he takes his friends to Carolina Coffee Shop all the time.

“Sometimes the service can be a little spotty, but it’s quintessential to the Chapel Hill experience,” Reasor said. “It’s a place where you can go to chill out for an hour and get a cup of coffee or tea, some good breakfast and take in the day.”

The authenticity of the shop is the primary appeal to visitors, Austin said. The walls, booths and back bar are all from the original 1922 restaurant.

Rae Ashley, who graduated from UNC in 1984, said he remembers the Carolina Coffee Shop from his days at UNC.

“It wasn’t a real hangout for students but we went a couple of times,” Ashley said. “Any time you see a place close like that it’s bittersweet.”

Austin said he hopes the new owners will leave the restaurant intact, as there are very few places that can boast longevity like the Carolina Coffee Shop can.

“Anyone who comes in and wants to buy a 95-year-old restaurant would be, for lack of a better word, stupid to try and change anything about it that would jeopardize getting to 100 years,” Austin said. “They’re buying it for the history of it, not to run it to the ground.”

Hearing the stories of returning alumni, past employees and couples back for an anniversary dinner is what makes the Coffee Shop special, Austin said.

“Stuff like that — that’s the thing you can’t put a price tag on,” he said.


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