As 2021 came to an end, five restaurants, several operated by business owners of color, opened their doors in downtown Chapel Hill — and there are more to come.
Here's what you need to know:
Seafood Destiny started business on Dec. 28 at the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets with a soft opening. The Black-owned restaurant plans to provide a 10 percent discount for UNC students who show their One Cards.
Owner Anthony Knotts said the idea for the restaurant, which first started as a food truck in Greensboro, came when he needed to find a way to pay for his daughter’s college tuition.
“Seafood Destiny started because I made a promise to my daughter that if she goes to college, she could go debt-free, but the problem was I didn’t have any money,” Knotts said. “I was just going to do a food truck. There were a lot of food trucks around, and I noticed that there was no seafood truck.”
Knotts acknowledged the community assistance he has received since acquiring the Chapel Hill property, including assistance from the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership and Mayor Pam Hemminger.
“We met with the mayor, who has been absolutely phenomenal,” Knotts said. “She gave us some great insight, she even challenged me on some things that I needed to look at ... Certain segments of Chapel Hill have already embraced us.”
The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership provides downtown businesses with free startup resources, social media promotion and grants. During the pandemic, the Downtown Partnership has promoted fundraisers and produced pandemic-related information on its website for local businesses.
Momo’s Master, a Nepalese restaurant that opened on North Columbia Street in late November, is owned by Ramesh Dahal, who was born in Nepal.
Dahal said he noticed there were no Himalayan restaurants in Chapel Hill and decided to found one of his own. He wanted to open the restaurant in the town because of its community.
“They value the background of the person who has created or established any type of food service business," Dahal said. "That’s why I chose Chapel Hill.”
Dahal said while the pandemic is not ideal for business, it was the right time for him to open his restaurant.
“At the end of the day, no matter what happens in the pandemic, people have to eat,” Dahal said. “But, we can eat healthier, reasonable and great food.”
Like Seafood Destiny, Dahal said he has received support from the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership since the Momo’s Master launch.
Additionally, Bouquet Garni Foods, owned by chef Eric Ndiaye, opened on Dec. 4 in the Blue Dogwood Public Market on Franklin Street. The new restaurant serves Senegalese, French and American cuisine and provides catering services.
Roots Natural Kitchen, which aims to provide affordable, natural food, also launched a Chapel Hill location on West Franklin Street early last month. This is the restaurant's 10th location since its founding in 2015.
Raising Cane’s, a Louisiana-based fast-food restaurant chain, bought the former Spanky’s Restaurant lot on East Franklin Street in December. This will be the third Raising Cane's location in North Carolina.
Neal McTighe, the regional director for the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center, said businesses have to adapt to the changing circumstances of the pandemic to stay afloat.
“Complacency is the absolute worst thing a business owner can do,” McTighe said. “There’s not a great chance if you’re just trying to sustain. You can’t be complacent, you have to rethink your business.”
McTighe said a long-term effect of the pandemic is that people are more inclined to establish businesses, and opportunities in the market are created by high numbers of business closure.
“I believe that Chapel Hill, as a microcosm of the larger economy, has a strong and diverse economic base that supports a lot of types of businesses,” McTighe said.
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