In 2017, a new Sutton’s was opened in Graham, and Clay Pinney, Don Pinney’s son and longtime worker at the original Chapel Hill store, is the owner.
A third Sutton’s was opened at the Europa Center. The Graham location has a soda fountain and sells retail like the original store, but the Europa Center store is strictly a lunch diner that opens at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Despite the new store openings, longtime customers still flock to the original location on Franklin Street.
During lunch rush hour, Pinney said he can recognize at least a handful of regulars in the store.
”I think people know they can come here and see a familiar face, which is something you can’t get just at any restaurant,” he said.
Payton Baker, a senior at UNC, started coming to Sutton’s regularly sophomore year. She said this Tuesday she came to Sutton’s on her lunch break between classes and ordered a Diet Coke.
“All of the workers are so sweet," she said. "A lot of times I just like to sit in here and do homework, and they always ask about my studies at UNC.”
Baker also said she likes all of the pictures on the wall of Sutton’s customers (and a couple of basketball jerseys). She said it gives the place a “unique Tar Heel vibe.”
Woodard starting taking pictures of customers and putting them on the wall in 1983. Pinney points to the booth closest to the pharmacist counter and said, “That’s where Kennedy Meeks sat. I love that kid.”
He said women’s basketball players are also Sutton regulars, like UNC seniors Liz Roberts and Taylor Koenen.
”We come here once a week,” Koenen said. “Don is so welcoming, and it’s pretty cool to see us (the UNC women’s basketball team) on the wall of fame.”
Pinney said the secret sauce that has kept customers coming to Sutton's for almost 100 years is creating a family-like atmosphere and maintaining low prices, in addition to not only appealing to UNC students.
“In fact, our busiest times of the year are when UNC students aren’t in town because alumni and locals come here,” Pinney said.
One of those locals is Arthur Ratliff, a teacher at Northside Elementary School. He comes to Sutton’s at least once a week in the morning. He’ll order his usual: cheddar cheese grits with bacon and ham.
“I’ve been coming here for what, 15 years now,” Ratliff said. “You can’t beat the atmosphere, and I can always talk sports with Don.”
Pinney called the lunch counter a "melting pot" where any customer can sit down and have a conversation. Sutton's will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2023, and he said he hopes the restaurant can continue to make people feel like they're part of a family.
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