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The Carolina Coffee Shop has been a Chapel Hill staple for generations of Tar Heels and town residents, and after 100 years, the institution is looking toward the future with Carolina alumni at the helm.
“Carolina Coffee Shop has been a gathering place for 100 years for students, alumni and townspeople, and almost everyone has a story about the restaurant,” said Jeff Hortman ’06, one of the co-owners. “We love Carolina Coffee Shop because it’s a casual, warm place that’s as iconic as Franklin Street.”
The restaurant opened in 1922 at 138 E. Franklin St., which was the location of Carolina’s student post office. Initially, it functioned as a soda shop, then pivoted toward serving meals in the 1950s.
For almost 50 years, local businessman Byron Freeman ’58 operated the restaurant. The wood paneling, high-backed booths and classical music that played over the radio created a relaxing(?) atmosphere for people to gather and read, study or talk.
Missy Julian Fox ’73, a Chapel Hill native and Chapel Hill Historical Society board member, remembers when her father opened Julian’s on Franklin Street next door to Carolina Coffee Shop.
“Julian’s was originally at 140 East Franklin Street where Carolina Coffee Shop’s café, ‘1922,’ just opened,” Fox said. “We constantly walked back and forth from the store to the restaurant, so my whole family has so many memories there.”
Julian’s, which is celebrating 80 years on Franklin Street, moved across the street in 2007, staying within sight of the restaurant. Fox said the two are anchor points for the town and landmarks for returning alumni.
“Despite the numerous changes that have occurred on Franklin Street in the last 100 years, Carolina Coffee Shop is still in the exact same spot serving food to Tar Heels,” Fox said. “Carolina Coffee Shop has always been the restaurant that bridged the gap between students, townspeople and alumni, which explains its longevity.”
In 2017, the restaurant changed owners for a fifth time but remained in Carolina hands. A group of alumni, including Heather O’Reilly ’07, a professional athlete and volunteer assistant coach for the Carolina women’s soccer team; Clay Schossow ’08; David Werry ’06 and Jeff Hortman ’06 bought Carolina Coffee Shop.
“This is our first foray into owning a restaurant, but when we heard that it was for sale, we felt a responsibility to continue the now 100-year tradition that means so much to all Tar Heels,” Hortman said. This year, the group opened 1922 by Carolina Coffee Shop next door as part of the centennial celebration and as a space where people can hang out, drink coffee and study, he said.
Meanwhile, a new generation of Tar Heels is going to Carolina Coffee Shop for the first time to make memories.
“When we took over, we wanted to make sure future Carolina students got to experience what we did at Carolina Coffee Shop,” Hortman said. “We’re hoping for another 100 years after this.”
— Madeline Pace ’18, University Communications/The Well