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'100 years and cooking': Sutton's Drug Store celebrates a century in Chapel Hill

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Sutton's Drug Store owner, Don Pinney, shakes the hands of patrons entering the restaurant on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at Sutton's 100th anniversary event.

Eleanor Currie arrived at Sutton's Drug Store at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. 

A loyal Sutton’s patron for over 20 years, she was one of the first people seated in the restaurant for its 100-year anniversary celebration. She waited in line for over two hours. 

Currie said she was waiting to get her usual: a hot dog with chili, slaw and onions.

By 10:30 a.m., there were over 30 people lined up on the sidewalk of Franklin Street as music poured out of the drugstore and restaurant.

To celebrate its centennial birthday, Sutton's offered free t-shirts displaying the slogan "Sutton's 100 years and cooking" to the first 100 customers and $1 hot dog meals throughout the day. 

Patrons sit inside of Sutton's Drug Store on Wednesday, April 12 at Sutton's 100th anniversary.


Abby Jordan, a UNC student who runs Sutton's social media, said Sutton's sold over 900 hot dogs and served nearly 600 people on Wednesday. 

"The first 100 shirts were gone within 28 minutes," Jordan said.

Don Pinney, Sutton’s current owner, has been working at Sutton’s for 45 years, first starting there as a teenager. He said he and the rest of the restaurant's staff were very excited about the event. 

Sutton's owner, Don Piney, greets patrons entering the drug store on Wednesday, April 12 at Sutton's 100th anniversary.


His wife, Amy Pinney, spent the day standing outside the drugstore encouraging customers to sign their name on a custom Sutton’s banner.  

“We love the community," she said. "We love Chapel Hill, and we are so glad that all these people love Suttons."

Sutton's was established in 1923 under the name Sutton & Alderman after the store's co-founders. 

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who attended the anniversary event and cut a ribbon to start the festivities, said she likes Sutton's small-town, family atmosphere created by its community of students and residents of all ages. 

The store's walls are lined with photos of previous UNC students, athletes and other customers, as well as jerseys and other UNC memorabilia. Hemminger noted she likes looking at pictures of previous customers.

“I just love being in there when I have meetings in there and meet people for lunch or coffee, it’s just looking around the pictures of different people," she said. 

Not everyone at the event was a longtime customer. 

Walt Wilson, a first-year student at UNC, said it was his first time at Sutton's. The $1 deal drew him into the restaurant. 

“I’ve been wanting to go, but it’s the first time," he said. "I'm probably just gonna get the dollar hot dogs. If it was a normal day, I'd probably get a burger."

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Sutton's promoted the event by putting flyers around campus and downtown Chapel Hill, as well as posting on its Instagram account.

Jordan was taking photos of customers and employees throughout the morning.

“I just come in the store, take photos, take videos, talk to customers regularly — some regulars have been coming since 1950,” Jordan said. 

Jordan said she began doing social media work for Sutton's after one of her journalism classes, MEJO 550: Business and the Media taught by Dane Huffman, visited the drugstore.

She has since assisted the restaurant in expanding its clientele to college students in Chapel Hill.

When asked about the meaning of Sutton's as a Chapel Hill institution, Amy Pinney said a lot of her life has revolved around the restaurant. Many of her major milestones, including meeting her husband and the birth of her son, have coincided with the restaurant's operation on Franklin Street.

"That's what makes me happy," Amy Pinney said. "This is my family."

Hillsborough resident Lee Stem raises his glass inside of Sutton's Drug Store on Wednesday, April 12 at Sutton's 100th anniversary. A long time customer, Stem says Sutton's is "institutional" to the Chapel Hilll area.

Emmy Martin contributed reporting. 

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Carson Elm-Picard

Carson Elm-Picard is the 2023-24 multimedia managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as the design editor. Carson is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science.

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