Al Bowers wields an industrial spatula over dozens of burgers on a portable grill. It’s one of Al’s Burger Shack’s four movable grills, and it sits on the lawn of a historic house on Battle Lane.
On Thursday, Bowers was invited to grill burgers and speak to students from the capstone class in the entrepreneurship minor. He graduated from UNC in 1988 with a degree in industrial relations.
“I think that if you’re in a position to foster any kind of advice or whatever knowledge you’ve acquired over the years to younger folks, it’s your responsibility to do that,” Bowers said. “I’m honored and flattered that somebody would think of me, that I’d have something to offer.”
Bowers is the first of many planned speakers for the class. Warner Underwood, the student program administrator of the minor, said the rest of the semester will focus on topics like interviewing for jobs and negotiating salaries.
"We think that’s something that is lacking in traditional courses at Carolina, and so we’re trying to fill that void through a lot of hands-on learning and treating (the class) as like an experiential lab," Underwood said. “So coming here, you get to taste the food that Al has created and how he created a corner on Franklin Street that is booming for a college town.”
Junior Casey Turczynski said he thought this class was the most exciting one in the minor by far.
“I was really excited when we heard that he was coming," Turczynski said. "I want to open my own restaurant some time down the road."
In a brief speech to students before a Q&A, Bowers announced the restaurant would open its second location on Sept. 18, National Cheeseburger Day. He opened the first Al’s Burger Shack on the same holiday in 2013.
Bowers got his start at McDonald’s in high school, before working as a waiter at UNC's chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha when he was a student at UNC. After working in real estate for years during the economic collapse in 2008, he decided it was time to go back into the restaurant industry. He ran Merritt’s Grill for two years before founding Al's.