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Family ownership of businesses in Chapel Hill span decades, generations

The president of University Florist, Henry House, is pictured alongside the co-owner of Mama Dip's Kitchen, Spring Council, and the owner of Julian's, Bart Fox, on Franklin Street on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. The ownership of all three businesses is multigenerational.

Maurice Julian opened a men’s clothing store on Franklin Street in 1942. More than 80 years later, Julian's grandson Bart carries on his namesake and legacy. 

Bart Fox took ownership of Julian’s last month and said it's his turn to “put his stamp on things” as the third generation of store owners within the family. His grandfather, mother and uncle all owned the store before him.

"Just having the amount of experience that my mom and uncle have is the most valuable thing,” Fox said. 

Julian’s Franklin Street storefront is just one of several businesses passed down through generations of Chapel Hill families.

Henry House is the president of University Florist and now runs the flower shop that his father bought over 35 years ago. He worked for his father in the shop since he was a teenager, and took over the store upon his father’s retirement about six years ago. 

“You definitely know the inside out, so if nothing else, the course of time and osmosis – and just being around it and breathing it in – puts you above the learning curve,” House said.

Mama Dip’s Kitchen, a southern-style restaurant, has been a staple in Chapel Hill for over 40 years.

Spring Council co-owns the restaurant with her seven siblings. Mildred Council, their mother and the original 'Mama Dip' passed it down to them. 

“My mom always put us in positions in the business where we can learn to carry on, so everything that we are doing now, we were doing when she was alive,” Council said. 

She said customers who return years later get a sense of nostalgia, as many customers grew up on food from Mama Dip’s.

Council's children and grandchildren have shown interest in leading Mama Dip’s, she said, she could see herself setting it up for them to take over at some point. 

Sutton’s Drug Store has served customers in Chapel Hill for 100 years. Don Pinney, the current owner, said he’s watched the students in town grow up through college and beyond. 

Pinney is the first-generation owner in his family, but his parents worked at the store and raised him on the stools at the counter, he said.

In 2014, Pinney bought Sutton’s and gained full ownership.

“You’re carrying on a legacy that someone else had started,” Pinney said.

“These generational businesses are the fabric, not just of downtown, but of the local community,” Stephanie Cobert, director of marketing for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said. “Families that are able to keep a business within a family, to keep the same business practices, the same menus, it helps anchor a lot of our downtown spaces.”

House said one advantage of passing down a family business is the customer base that follows. He said he relies on his father’s customers to spread the word about the flower shop to future generations. 

House also said he is unsure of what the next generation holds for University Florist.

“It's rewarding, but it's also a very time-consuming business, so I don't know how much of that I wish on the next generation,” he said. 

Fox said that knowing the customer base from decades prior allowed him to “hit the ground running” when he gained ownership last month.

Rather than getting dropped off at home after school, Fox said he would arrive at his grandfather’s store, absorbing the business from a young age. His family would even discuss fittings and patterns at the dinner table, he said. 

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He said he would like to get the store to 100 years.

“My daughter is six and a half years old and already really good with a tape measure,” he said. “So, it's here for her if she wants it.”

Pinney said the future of Sutton’s is his son, Clay Pinney. He said they have already begun the transition process to eventually transfer ownership to his son several years from now.

“It needs new blood, new life,” he said. 


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