After almost 16 years in business, Vietnamese restaurant Lime and Basil closed on April 6.
Owner Tuan Le said the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for the restaurant that ultimately led to its closing.
As a father of two young kids, he said it was difficult to juggle being a business owner and raising a family. His youngest son was born on Lime and Basil’s closing day.
"During the pandemic, it was basically, if I wasn’t there, I couldn’t open, so it depended on me,” he said. “Trying to make ends meet with everything going on — inflation, prices and short staff. It was just hard to balance everything.”
Le purchased Lime and Basil from the original owners in 2006. It was a goal of his to own a restaurant because he has always had a passion for cooking.
Le began working at the Franklin Street restaurant as a server in 2004 while taking classes at UNC. Before then, when he was a first-year at the University, Le said, there wasn't a Vietnamese restaurant in Chapel Hill.
“The closest one was actually in downtown Durham, so we would go and get pho out of either Raleigh or Durham,” he said. “(A Vietnamese restaurant) was something I always wanted for Chapel Hill.”
Despite the challenges the pandemic posed, Lime and Basil left a positive impact on the Chapel Hill community.
UNC alumnus Marcus Donie, program coordinator for the Asian American Center, said he has been a customer of Lime and Basil for about 10 years.
He said he met Le when the two took a Vietnamese class together at UNC, and they have been friends ever since.
He said he loved Lime and Basil because he could see his Vietnamese culture being represented, and it gave people an introduction to Southeast Asian cuisine.
“It was just nice to see that representation, that way people could also try pho and all the different dishes that I was familiar with," Donie said.
He added that Le donated free meals to first responders and donated several gift certificates for events including Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Asia Week and Pride Week.
UNC junior Armani Johnson said the first time she went to Lime and Basil was during her first year. She said she loved the restaurant’s reasonable prices, large portions and caring staff.
“I’m kind of sad about it, but honestly with this school year and because of COVID, a lot of businesses closed down,” Johnson said. “It was kind of crazy.”
Donie shared a similar sentiment about Lime and Basil's closing.
“I am very proud that it lasted as long as it did because things tend to go out on Franklin Street all the time,” he said.
Now, Le said, he is going to focus on being a stay-at-home dad.
“I wish we could continue having the restaurant, but I just felt like it was the right time to close the doors and spend time with my family,” he said.
Le will miss the memories from the restaurant and the people that have helped him throughout the years — it was the place where he met his wife, the place where many in Chapel Hill found community.
"It holds a special place in my heart," Le said.
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