In 1999, the Rat, at 157 1/2 E. Franklin St. in Amber Alley, was put up for sale and nearly closed down after no one was interested in purchasing the restaurant.
Enter Francis Henry, Ken Jackson, John Woodward and Brian Wilson. The group came together in just one week to buy and preserve Rathskeller from fading out of the Franklin Street scene.
Henry is now buying out the shares of his partners, all of whom have other businesses to tend to. He said the change in the business arrangements stems not from monetary gain but from necessity and efficiency.
"Upon the death of Mrs. Danziger (the former owner of the Rat), the place went to a trust," Henry said. "When we came in, the place was dirty and it didn't really have a good name attached to it. We spent over 200 man hours and three years of work to get the Rat back where we want it."
Henry has been living in Wilmington in recent years but is moving back to the area to assume full control of the Franklin Street legend. He's been staying at the Red Roof Inn in Durham because he hasn't had time to find a permanent home while working more than 16-hour days -- not only handling managerial tasks but also busing tables when the customer load gets too heavy.
Henry said that for now, things at the Rat will be business as usual.
"We will be making some changes in the prep room, and I'll be looking for space in the dining area," Henry said. "But for right now, the customers will still see the Rat they remember."
Henry added that he will be looking into moving the bar back if possible.
Henry also said no personnel changes will be made to the wait staff at the Rat, famous for both their personalities and loyalty to their workplace.
"I will tell you straight out: No one is leaving here."
Henry did say he has brought in a consultant who has worked with several chain companies to help identify areas where the Rat could improve. One change made was an employee manual detailing in-house rules and restaurant guidelines, something new to the Rat.
Henry scoffed at the idea that he would want to radically alter the Rat's character.
"I had my first date here," he said. "A little red-headed girl, I can never for the life of me remember her name. But I remember it was at the Rat, right here," patting the table where he and his date ate.
The Rat holds cherished memories of college life for numerous alumni -- judging from the endless graffiti on the walls dating back to 1948 and the number of graduates that fill the facility to capacity during football and basketball games. Whenever a major change occurs at a place like the Rat, there is always concern that tradition will be altered.
Bob Inman, class of 1969, said changing the Rat would be a sin.
"When I went to UNC, we would go to the Rat for pizza and beer after basketball games," Inman said. "That's the Rat I know."
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