Cosmic Cantina will be relocating to a storefront on 118 E. Franklin St., two buildings away from its current location in advance of UNC's Porthole Alley Redevelopment Project. Initial estimates place the timing of the move late this year or early next year. Community members and restaurant staff alike are wondering how this move will change the culture and business of the Franklin Street staple.
The planned renovations of University-owned buildings in and around Porthole Alley will include the construction of ground-floor retail space and offices for Undergraduate Admissions, the UNC Visitors Center and other programs. It will impact businesses located at 128 E. Franklin St., 134 E. Franklin St., the Hill Commercial Building and the Porthole Building.
The redevelopment project is part of the University's Campus Master Plan, which is centered around the themes: Welcome, Connections and Hubs. Some, like UNC sophomore Stella Turner, worry that the plans will change the spaces that are already hubs for student life, like Cosmic Cantina.
Turner said she is worried that the move will make the restaurant overly visited by people passing through Chapel Hill. She said since the location is tucked away currently, the restaurant's customers are mainly locals and students.
“It's just a unique, funky place and I don’t want it to be touristy,” she said.
UNC alumna Shelley Edwards said, from an economic standpoint, a storefront directly on Franklin could bring more awareness to the restaurant. But, she agreed the hole-in-the-wall aspect of Cosmic Cantina is what makes it a hidden gem.
“People that lived in Chapel Hill for years just didn’t know, because it’s so tucked in and it’s so unique and some of that is part of the fun experience,” Edwards said.
She worries the move will detract from the culture around the restaurant. When she was in college, she said Cosmic Cantina was one of the first places to embrace meatless items on their menu, which created a close-knit community of local vegetarians.
Yeshua Sanchez, the restaurant’s catering coordinator, said he thinks the move will improve the restaurant’s popularity because it gives them a storefront directly on Franklin Street.