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'It's beautiful in there': Cosmic Cantina relocates to 118 E. Franklin St.

05142024_Monoson_Cosmic
Cosmic Cantina's new location provides a bar for patrons, pictured on May 14, 2024.

Cosmic Cantina has relocated from 128 E. Franklin St. to 118 E. Franklin St. as a result of UNC’s Campus Master Plan. The grand reopening took place on May 1, and an inaugural party was held on May 4. 

The business — which originally opened in Durham in 1995 — was founded by Duke alumnus Cosmos Lyles. The restaurant specializes in San Francisco-style burritos, which are large, wrapped in aluminum and full of rice. The Chapel Hill location opened four years later, and in 2001, the business expanded to New York with a location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which has since closed.

The relocation of the restaurant began when the University announced its 2019 Master Plan, in which buildings on either side of Porthole Alley will be renovated to house the admissions office, Hill Building and retail spaces. The goal of the project is to connect the University and Franklin Street.

Cosmic Cantina was one of three recipients of the Downtown Small Business Relocation Grant, which was introduced in 2023 by the Town of Chapel Hill Economic Development Department. The purpose of the grant was to help small businesses in downtown Chapel Hill relocate in response to redevelopment. Each business received at least $20,000.

“Cosmic is a beloved institution and getting it out on the street is amazing because it gives them just a little bit more presence on the street, which is good,” Jeri Lynn Schulke, executive director of Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said. “They’re not so hidden away.” 

The original Chapel Hill location was situated between two storefronts — Johnny T-Shirt and the now-relocated Salon 135 — in the Franklin Centre alleyway, obstructed from street view. 

“Students loved the old place, but it was definitely a hole in the wall,” Lyles said. 

The new location has a fresh juice bar and a massive mural of Ramses in space, along with a dining area complete with benches, booths and bar tables. Tiles forming the Cosmic Cantina logo line the walls, paired with accent tiles that pay homage to Chapel Hill. Lyles said that the relocation has been well received, and that the juice bar has garnered compliments.

The layout of the new space differs from the previous location. Yeshua Sanchez, Cosmic Cantina’s manager and catering coordinator, said that business — specifically catering — has grown exponentially, and that more space was necessary to support this growth. 

“If you’re familiar with [Cosmic Cantina], you know that late nights can get wild, and you can be waiting for a while, you know, down the hallway, where we were previously,” Sanchez said. “And now we have a lot more space where people can sit in, have fun and we will eventually have outdoor seating as well.”

Sanchez said that, though it took some time to adjust, he feels like there is more room to breathe, and that Cosmic Cantina employees are no longer on top of each other. 

“I’m so happy for them," Schulke said. "I’m so happy that they made this move, and the space is great. It’s beautiful in there.”  

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the UNC Master Plan's role in the relocation and how long the University has owned the Porthole Alley properties. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

@LolaOliverio 

@dthcitystate | city@dailytarheel.com 

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