Earlier in January, [B]Ski’s and Asia Cafe shut down, preceded by establishments like Spanky’s in March 2018. Now, Roots Bistro & Bar is closing on Feb. 17 — yet Chapel Hill officials say that there might be no cause for concern.
“What is happening right now is something that seems to come around every couple of years. We’ve been saying that there are things that we could do to make sure that there’s enough attraction to downtown, like sufficient parking,” said Dwight Bassett, economic development officer of the Town of Chapel Hill. “When you look at the overall vacancy and occupancy of downtown, it remains impeccably strong."
Bassett said it is reasonable for downtown centers such as Franklin Street to have a small percentage of vacancies. However, if the Town observed that occupancy was reaching new lows, it would implement new initiatives in order to counteract that. As of now, the Town said it doesn’t appear that vacancies are any greater than what has been seen in the Chapel Hill business cycle.
Roots Bistro & Bar is known for its homey Central American fare and a vibrant atmosphere. They currently have locations in both Chapel Hill and Durham.
In April, the restaurant got attention for something other than its cuisine. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Ordoñez and two of his brothers.
Gabriel Ordoñez, co-owner and chef of Roots, said this has nothing to do the closure.
Ordoñez said Roots in Chapel Hill is closing because the owner of the building is trying to build a third floor on the establishment. The landlord asked Ordoñez to sign a new lease after the current one is up in a month, but for five more years and at a rate of $1500 more per month.
Ordoñez said five more years alone was doable, but the price made it difficult.
He and his brothers have owned Roots for the last four and a half years after working at other restaurants in Chapel Hill.
“We just wanted our own place. We didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore. There’s too much competition now and the taxes are too high,” said Ordoñez. “We have the new place in Durham now. People are asking me if we are totally done, and I say no, but we just can’t stay.”
None of this is to say that business closures in downtown Chapel Hill have gone unnoticed.
Matt Gladdek, the new executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said he and the organization want downtown Chapel Hill businesses to thrive. In order to do this, the partnership will be reaching out to owners and stakeholders to better understand their needs.
“In general, it’s risky to assume all the businesses closed for similar reasons. Restaurants and retail are extremely risky ventures with high failure rates,” Gladdek said.
For Ordoñez, Roots closing is not a failure but just a result of high rental costs on Franklin Street. He and his brothers, two of whom co-own the restaurant, are not beaten, simply moving on.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.