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Carrboro United reaches $1 million in sales seven months into operation

Manfred Franz walks out of the refrigerated truck with a Carrboro United customer's orders on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

A local food effort that began in March to invigorate the Chapel Hill-Carrboro food economy during the pandemic has now exceeded $1 million in sales. 

Carrboro United is a local food hub program that allows consumers to pick up food from local restaurants and farmers three times a week. It was launched by former Fleet Feet Sports CEO Tom Raynor, Acme Food & Beverage Co. and a team of local leaders to help restaurants in response to the pandemic.

Zoë Dehmer, director of operations and planning for Acme Food & Beverage Co., said the first week of creating Carrboro United was incredibly challenging for the team. In 48 hours, they created a website, set up an online payment system and created a logo, branding and social media. 

“I don’t think I slept for probably four days straight,” Dehmer said. 

But they didn’t do it alone. Dehmer said the team had help from local businesses in the area who lent their parking lots. In addition, US Foods lent a refrigerated truck for the program to operate out of, and a local branding and design agency, The Splinter Group, coded their website and created signage.

“It was a big collaborative effort,” Dehmer said.

Carrboro United was first located in the parking lot in front of the Cat’s Cradle. Once businesses in that area reopened and needed parking back, it moved operations to Carrboro High School’s parking lot for most of the summer. It is now located at University Place. 

Here's how it works:

  • Menus go out on Sundays and are delivered to people’s email inboxes. Customers can then go to the online payment system and order a meal from a variety of local restaurants, such as Acme or Glasshalfull.
  • On the day of their pickup, customers get a reminder of pickup location and time. They can pick their meals up any time between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. on “Hub Days,” which are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. 
  • The pickup is contact-free; customers pay online and stay in their cars when picking up food.

Dehmer said the move to University Place has opened them up to Chapel Hill and Durham vendors, such as The Mad Hatter’s Café & Bakeshop. She said because the location is central to Carrboro, Durham and Chapel Hill customers, they’ve seen an increase in interest. 

One of the vendors for Carrboro United is Gray Squirrel Coffee Co., and owner Shaw Sturton said it helped them while they were closed for two months and didn't have online sales set up.

“It kept us relevant, kept us alive, kept us going,” Sturton said. 

When he first heard about Carrboro United, Sturton said he thought it was an excellent idea. He said the initiative boosted the local economy by helping business maintain their employees and attracting customers.

Dehmer said she didn’t think Carrboro United was going to last past the summer. She said people keep showing up, which has shown her that the way people eat is changing for good.

“We know that we’re becoming a part of people’s regular routine,” Dehmer said.

Rita Tyrrell, manager of Glasshalfull, said Carrboro United has provided opportunities for college students and other service industry workers to find work, which has helped to keep money in the local economy.  

“The wide impact has given us the ability to bring back people and reemploy people,” Tyrrell said. 

Dehmer said since hitting $1 million in sales, her Facebook feed has been flooded with posts. She said customers are really proud of this milestone and know that they’ve made a difference. 

She explained they knew from the beginning that it was important to not only funnel money back into the local economy, but also to support people’s ability to have a staff. Dehmer said some of the vendors have told her that selling to Carrboro United has made the difference between being able to keep some of their staff and having to fire them. 

“When we spend money at local places, the money is that much more powerful,” Dehmer said. 


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