The Carolina Coffee Shop is the oldest restaurant still in operation in North Carolina, right down to its brick walls.
General manager Jeremy Ferry said the restaurant, which is a popular gathering spot in Chapel Hill, opened in 1922 and has been serving the community ever since.
“There were restaurants before us, but they are all gone or have changed names,” Ferry said. “So we are the longest running restaurant in the state.”
Assistant General Manager Victoria Pace said she had done some research on the history of the restaurant but wasn’t able to find official records of any restaurants that had survived longer than the Carolina Coffee Shop.
Before becoming the Carolina Coffee Shop, the building at 138 E. Franklin St. was the UNC student post office, which was transformed into a soda shop called the Carolina Confectionery in 1922, Ferry said.
Carolina Confectionery became Carolina Coffee Shop, and the business functioned as a soda shop until the 1950s, when it became a restaurant, he said.
Former UNC football player Charlie Justice used to come to the Carolina Coffee Shop back when he was a student, Pace said.
“We have a dessert called the ‘Choo Choo Justice,’” she said. “It’s our signature dessert.”
From the 1950s to 1999, Byron Freeman owned the Carolina Coffee Shop. Pace said Freeman added a formal dining service, but the bar still didn’t have late night hours.
Then the third owner, Greg Owens, bought the restaurant in 1999 and did a lot of renovations, said Pace.
“That’s when it became more like a diner,” she said.
“He did the renovations of making the place larger, and that’s when the late night bar started.”
In 2007, Gary Monroe, who got his Master’s degree at UNC, became the owner of the restaurant, which operated under a partnership, said Ferry.
“This is the fourth owner since 1922, which is pretty amazing nowadays for restaurants,” he said.
Though there have been some changes at the restaurant throughout the years, the bar top, two of the chandeliers and all of the bricks are still from the restaurant’s old days, said Pace.
“We haven’t tried to do a whole bunch of new renovations — keep it looking nice but still maintain the old charm,” she said.
The preserved atmosphere of history at the restaurant attracts a lot of UNC alumni returning to Chapel Hill, Ferry said.
“It is amazing how many alumni would come back to visit and make sure they come by here, because it’s a part of Chapel Hill since anyone that’s probably still alive went to school here,” he said.
The tradition of visiting the Carolina Coffee Shop continues today as current UNC students keep coming to the restaurant with their families and friends.
Bridget Curran, a freshman at UNC, said she goes to the Carolina Coffee Shop every week.
“I love it. They have great coffee and great breakfast selection,” she said.
Carolyn Paletta, also a UNC freshman, said she likes the ambiance of the restaurant.
“I like the atmosphere, because the waiters are really attentive, and it’s dim lighting so it’s very calm,” she said.
As for the future, General Manager Jeremy Ferry said he wants to continue developing the restaurant’s relationship with the local community and the University.
“I think one of its goals is to have a lasting imprint on Chapel Hill as a unique part of its history — both the town and the university,” he said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.