After three years of uncertainty, chef Garret Fleming and his sister Eleanor Lacy, a dessert baker extraordinaire, have finally found a permanent home. Fleming and Lacy had barely installed the pig smoker at their first Chapel Hill restaurant, Big Belly Que, in Blue Dogwood Public Market on West Franklin Street when the pandemic hit. They had already coped with the challenges of a shared kitchen and a lack of a hood vent, which ruled out all fried foods, including hushpuppies. Then the governor banned indoor seating, making patio dining uncomfortable in cold or hot weather. But customers still kept coming out for smoked pork and chocolate chip bread pudding.
In 2022, they learned that the little wooden house at 104 N. Graham St., behind Al’s Burger Shack, was available as restaurant space. Fleming and Lacy signed a lease and closed their Blue Dogwood location. But the Town of Chapel Hill wouldn’t issue a permit for a wood-fired smoker that would be parked beside a vintage wooden house — a placement that gave their insurance company pause as well. That opened an opportunity to consider a new menu.
Fleming and Lacy decided on a loose Italian concept: small, seasonal menus with elaborate sandwiches for lunch, and plates of fresh pasta and local ingredients for dinner. The two began planning the menu for Bombolo, which is Italian for a jolly man with a big belly, Lacy said. Then the landlord changed his mind on the lease.
For a few months, all seemed lost. Fate stepped in when Dick and Sue Barrows, owners of Kitchen in Midtown Market, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Street, decided to retire. On New Year’s Eve, they quietly closed the successful restaurant they’d run for more than a decade and sold the building to Fleming and Lacy.
Despite its name, Bombolo isn’t a typical Italian restaurant. Its menu features crispy pig ears, barbecued shrimp, mafalde and duck prosciutto Bolognese, and grilled octopus. The dessert menu includes hazelnut praline feuilletine with orange chocolate mousse and bread pudding with a warm buttered rum sauce. Garrett and Lacy have a selection of affordable wines that complement each dish.
764 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
In spring 2022, the Vietnamese restaurant Lime & Basil closed its doors after 16 years on West Franklin Street. Within months, another Asian restaurant began making plans to open its fifth Triangle store in the space. In March, Bul Box Asian Grill welcomed customers to its build-your-own-meal-in-a-box concept.
Bul Box offers specialty meals boxes named after Asian cities: Seoul starts with bulgogi beef; Tokyo builds on teriyaki chicken; and Shanghai features ginger chicken. Add any number of vegetable options and drizzle on a sauce. Vegetarian options are available, too.
200 W. Franklin St.
Crumbl Cookies fired up its ovens in Chapel Hill just in time for Valentine’s Day. The national chain has more than 200 recipes that it rotates through a half-dozen or so at a time, so customers always have something new to look forward to. Two varieties are constant: milk chocolate chip and pink sugar cookies.
The brand’s mission is to bring family and friends together over a box of what it claims are the best cookies in the world. With more than 500 stores nationwide, Crumbl knows what its customers want. It sells giant, puffed-up, perfectly baked cookies, with a side of milk or a half-pint cup of ice cream. Every Sunday night, fans check the Crumbl website to learn what flavors will drop that week — anything from s’mores to key lime pie, or peppermint bark, buttermilk pancake or cornbread.
The six co-owners of the Chapel Hill store renovated the former Ivy & Leo women’s boutique into a professional kitchen where Crumbl customers can watch their cookies bake. The location offers cookies only to go and has no in-store seating.
133 W. Franklin St.
A dozen years ago, the Franklin Street Arts Collective opened a contemporary fine arts gallery, on East Franklin Street, showcasing the work of local artists, hosting events and conducting arts education. Called FRANK, it remained on Franklin Street for seven years before moving to a space in the rebranded University Place (formerly University Mall). Over time, the mall lost its anchors and much of its foot traffic. The mall was sold, and the new owner sought a major renovation, demolishing the former A Southern Season.
In March, FRANK moved to a new spot in Carrboro, in the same complex as WomanCraft Gifts, which displays and sells the work of local artists and artisans, and across the street from Peel Gallery, featuring the work of emerging, mid-career and under-recognized artists. The N.C. Crafts Gallery is down the block. Together, the galleries and retail outlets form a mini arts district.
The move to Carrboro enables FRANK to take part in Second Friday ArtWalk. The new space is larger, allowing the gallery to store extra art to show more of an artist’s work to customers and has room for an activity space for educational events and artist talks. Having a storefront again in the midst of other shops and restaurants lets FRANK enjoy the vibrancy of a small downtown. The gallery plans to partner with some of the neighboring restaurants to host art openings.
370 E. Main St., Carrboro
A national chain purchased independent pet supply store Phydeaux in February. Phydeaux opened in Carrboro 20 years ago and expanded twice before moving in 2008 to larger quarters on South Elliott Road. Owner Frank Papa added locations in Raleigh and in Cary. For 16 years, the business was voted the Triangle’s favorite pet supply store by readers of Indy Week, a local newspaper. All that caught the attention of Kentucky-based Feeders Pet Supply, which made Papa an offer he couldn’t refuse. Some Feeders brand products have begun appearing on Phydeaux’s shelves, and the store will soon change its name.
400 S. Elliott Road
— Nancy E. Oates