Restaurant owners Annie Johnston and Andrew Young both overcame unique challenges while getting their new businesses up and running this year during the pandemic.
Market and Moss, Johnston’s latest project, opened in Southern Village on Oct. 22 and specializes in seasonal New American cuisine.
Blue’s on Franklin, owned by Young, opened a day later and features Southern barbecue from the first wood smoker to be used in a restaurant in Chapel Hill.
Blue’s on Franklin
In addition to authentic North Carolina-style barbecue, the menu at Blue’s includes a variety of other dishes that feature smoked pork, as well as smoked wings, burgers, hot dogs and vegetarian options.
“The best stuff that can come out of that smoker isn’t just Eastern North Carolina barbecue,” he said.
Young is a UNC graduate and grew up in Chapel Hill after his parents met while attending the University.
“For a lot of the families that’ve been here for a long time, we've grown up coming to all these mom-and-pop places up and down Franklin Street and have really been sad to see a lot of them forced out of business,” Young said. “So when this space became available, we really wanted to do a family-owned and operated place that brought in some true Southern barbeque with a smoker.”
The risks associated with opening a restaurant during the pandemic did nothing to stop Young from purchasing the space. In fact, the greatest challenges he faced were related to getting the permits needed to use the smoker indoors.
“Before COVID you could go over and meet with the town officials face-to-face,” Young said. “But right now they’re working remotely and doing the best they can.”
Despite the difficulties that this new reality presented, Young was able to work with several officials and determine the modifications he needed to make for the smoker to meet the proper regulations.
After installing a new hood and vent, finishing the rest of the renovations and covering the walls with a multitude of UNC sports memorabilia, Young and his family welcomed a line out the door on opening weekend.
Market and Moss
Johnston has owned La Vita Dolce Cafe for more than five years, which is where she discovered her love for growing businesses that in turn grow the community. She said she believes this can be accomplished by providing a positive space for people to come and take a break from their day and make new connections.
In December 2019, Johnston saw an opportunity to extend these values into a full-service restaurant. She discovered that Seth Kingsbury, a former employer of hers, was interested in selling his restaurant three doors down from La Vita Dolce.
Johnston purchased the space and focused on serving New American dishes, with themes inspired by the food she was exposed to while visiting San Francisco.
“Everything was super fresh, it was bright, and it also typically wasn’t heavy, so I would leave satisfied and refreshed but I didn’t need a nap,” Johnston said.
She said Market and Moss features a seasonal menu that’s vibrant, flavorful, creative and able to be eaten multiple times a week without making anyone feel lethargic.
Johnston said because social distancing requirements limited the number of contractors able to work on renovations, the process was slowed down significantly. Additionally, she said supporting another business during the pandemic forced her to step back from the development of Market and Moss.
“And my director of operations, Erin Pacheco, had to step back because she’s also the manager at the café," Johnston said. "We had to focus on supporting La Vita Dolce for a good four to five months.”
After months of juggling the challenges presented by COVID-19, Johnston was not only able to open Market and Moss, but said she is now seeing business return closer and closer to normal at La Vita Dolce.
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