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Notable successes and closures for Franklin Street restaurants in the past decade

Nick Curee, a 24-year-old Nashville native, prepares a drink at Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews on Dec. 3, 2019.

Franklin Street today is home to a diverse array of pizza restaurants, boba spots and places offering every food variety in between. Students’ ever-changing tastes have opened the doors for new and progressive ventures and closed the doors of more traditional staples, and the iconic street has changed considerably over the past decade.

Epilogue, an independently-owned bookstore and coffee shop, has seen notable success since its recent opening. The shop is known for its warm churros and hot chocolate presented with a Spanish-inspired twist. Osamah Atieh, a first-year at UNC, has proudly named Epilogue his go-to study spot. 

“I just love that it’s different,” Atieh said. “You can tell they want students to feel like they’re at home as soon as they walk in. I always go with the intention to study and somehow end up in the back with a book.”

New openings have not been as well-received by everyone, however. Rabina Sawhney, a Chapel Hill native and UNC senior, is among those who are less than thrilled with the direction Franklin Street is headed. 

“When I was younger, my family had a tradition of going to this restaurant called 35 Chinese every Friday night," she said. "It closed a while back, and it was in a tiny strip mall where Carolina Square is now. Franklin is losing its charm and prioritizing convenience over character. To sum it up, it’s looking like the death of the mom-and-pop and the rise of fast-casual."

Among the decade’s most notable closures was Spanky’s, a Franklin Street staple for more than 40 years. Spanky’s first opened its doors in 1977 and had a reputation for its warm, game-day atmosphere, friendly wait staff and casual dining.

Spanky’s was managed by Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, an organization which has since replaced the time-honored establishment with Lula’s, a southern eatery with a focus on quality and simplicity.

Sugarland, a dessert spot that served cupcakes, gelato and other baked goods, was replaced by Blue Spoon Microcreamery in April. Blue Spoon is unique in the way its ice cream is made in-house with liquid nitrogen, a modern twist on a classic treat. 

Farther down Franklin Street, Smoothie King was replaced by The Hemp Store, a specialty store that aims to “raise cannabis awareness by providing the highest quality U.S.-grown hemp products while working with the community to build a better world through peace, love and hemp.”

Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said cooperation between businesses and the landowners is key to the success of downtown Chapel Hill.

“In each of these instances, these businesses have great landlords that are working to help their tenants be a success," he said. "This isn't a new phenomenon. We have many older, locally-owned businesses that remain successful and drawing customers from all over.”

Anastasia Freedman, another UNC senior who was raised in Chapel Hill, said the town seems to be working toward a specific vision, similar to that of downtown Raleigh. 

“Raising the rent for places on Franklin really limits the potential for local restaurants to thrive. It also puts pressure on any new place that opens up. They have to either profit right off the bat, or leave right after they started,” she said.

Gladdek said business closings are always a bit sad, but he remains optimistic. 

“I hope the market learns something from the closure and helps the next business to meet the needs of the community better and better connect with customers to build a loyal customer base to find success,” he said. 

But Gladdek said there is no specific formula to follow in order for a restaurant to find success on Franklin Street. 

“I think the most important recent trend in successful Franklin Street businesses is a focus on local businesses responding to the market and building strong customer loyalty," Gladdek said.


@DTHCityState |

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