Carolina graduates Charlie Farris ’04 and Jason Kesler ’04 helped out alumni Al Bowers ’88 and his wife, Melody Adams Bowers ’85, by purchasing Al’s Burger Shack after the Bowerses filed for bankruptcy for the three-location business in 2020.
The Bowerses opened the original Al’s in a tiny house at the end of a line of storefront restaurants on West Franklin Street in 2013. Customers lined up around the block to pick up a burger and enjoy their meal sitting at picnic tables set up along the edge of a gravel parking lot. (The store was too small for more than a couple tables.) In 2017, the couple opened a second Al’s, in Southern Village, and Mel’s Commissary and Catering in Carrboro. The following year, Al’s Bobo Chili Cheeseburger was voted “Best Burger in America” by TripAdvisor.
The Bowerses opened a pub concept in Governors Village, south of Chapel Hill, in 2019, but expanding so quickly left them over extended. They closed the catering business and the pub and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for the pub and Chapter 11 reorganization for the two remaining burger shacks, where sales remained strong.
Farris and Kesler had built a successful chain of Jersey Mike’s Subs franchises in North Carolina. Farris owns 15 in the Triangle, and Kesler owns eight in
Wilmington. They closed on the sale of Al’s in December and took over management immediately. They plan no changes to the successful burger joint. In future years, they may open a third Al’s in Wilmington, where Kesler is based.
516 W. Franklin St. and 708 Market St.
Politics, social media, weather disasters and wars can inject toxicity into the body and soul. A one-stop shop in the Midway business enclave off West Franklin Street has any number of antidotes.
Quantum Soul, a metaphysical gift shop, opened in November in the little yellow house behind Al’s Burger Shack on Franklin Street. The wife-and-husband owners, Lynn and Tom Swain, also own Bull City Magic in Durham and Magic on 70 in Hillsborough.
Stocked with more than a hundred types of crystals, from a 200-pound rose quartz from Madagascar to baby crystals for handheld use, the store traffics in positive energy. The inventory includes jewelry made by local artists, fossils, candles and bundles of sage and mugwort that can smolder like incense to cleanse the home and body.
The bookshelves hold titles such as Elemental Witchcraft, Angelology and Advanced Candle Magick. Lynn has created her own line of essential oils. Ninety percent of the stock is built on customer requests; the remaining 10 percent comes from employee suggestions.
Tom practices numerology, and Lynn, an internationally known psychic medium, offers in-person sessions in a sound-proof space, as well as online readings. She conducts workshops on how to derive the most benefit from tools sold in the store.
Quantum Soul wants its customers to feel peaceful and safe inside the store, and leave the store happier than when they came in.
104 N. Graham St.
Deedee Mills Hagner ’95 operated a food truck in Charlotte that sold sandwiches, wraps and coffee. When the pandemic took an oversized bite out of her business, she pivoted to a mobile gift shop. She renamed it Map Dot, alluding to its peripatetic location as a moving dot on a map.
Her sister, Melissa Mills Lebo ’91, knew all about pivots, having followed her husband, Jeff Lebo ’90, as he moved about the South, building his career as a college men’s basketball coach after playing for the Tar Heels from 1985 to 1989. In 2021, the Lebos moved to Chapel Hill when Jeff was hired as a men’s assistant coach, and Hagner and her sister, who’d left her job at a luxury home consignment boutique in Greenville, mapped out a plan to go into business together.
In October, they found a small but sunny room above Sutton’s Drug Store in which to unpack the truck, spread out a little and add to their inventory. They scouted one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories and home décor items. They wove in unique ways for Tar Heels to wear their fandom — hand-beaded Carolina earrings, coin purses and purse straps.
The microshop sells practical and pretty gifts such as a bottle opener made from pieces of a wine barrel, wooden bowls and artisan crafted pieces.
Map Dot has a speakeasy ambience. A sandwich board on the sidewalk provides a phone number to call to be buzzed in. Once inside, customers never know what delights they’ll find.
157 E. Franklin St., one flight up
The prospect of their favorite burger for lunch, along with a free gift bag, warmed about 100 people who lined up in a cold rain in December, some as early as 8:30 a.m., waiting for the 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting for Chapel Hill’s first Shake Shack. Even Rameses showed up.
The grand opening, days before Christmas, marked the Triangle’s second Shake Shack among the 400-site global franchise. The store in Eastgate Crossing shopping center, sandwiched between East Franklin Street and Fordham Boulevard, previously was home to Zoës Kitchen.
Shake Shack donated $1 for every sandwich sold on opening day to PORCH, a Carrboro nonprofit that delivers groceries to food-insecure families. The restaurant also urged customers to bring a nonperishable food item with them to donate to the hunger relief agency.
The classic menu — burgers, chicken sandwiches and a grilled cheese option, paired with crinkle-cut fries, perhaps topped with bacon strips — has a loyal fan base. And of course, it offers a variety of milk shakes made with frozen custard, including tiramisu and Dreamsicle. Its lemonades are made with cane sugar.
Adding the fast-casual restaurant is one of several upgrades Kite Realty Group has made to Eastgate since it acquired the 1950s shopping center in 2020.
1800 E. Franklin St.
Perhaps her years as a sommelier imbued Paula De Pano with the patience to prevail through one construction delay after another in opening Rocks + Acid, her organic wine bar and shop in Southern Village in Chapel Hill.
De Pano signed the lease on her Market Street storefront in May 2021. But the remodeling stagnated as she waited for permits and inspectors and blond-wood shelves and flooring, all impacted by pandemic-choked supply chains and staff shortages brought on by The Great Resignation. Finally, in December 2022, she peeled off the brown paper covering the shop windows, and customers streamed in.
The shop carries some 400 labels, all family owned, organic and sustainable, and many by female vintners. De Pano hosts wine tastings every Saturday and conducts classes, similar to those she led at the upscale Fearrington House Restaurant when she was the beverage and service director. The shop name harkens back to the wine’s organic nature. Rocks refers to the terrain on which the grapes are grown, and acid helps preserve and balance the sweetness.
“If you’re eating organic foods, it doesn’t make sense to pair it with nonorganic wine,” De Pano said.
712 Market St.
A New Season
After a decade of operating a distillery in downtown Chapel Hill, Scott Maitland ’95 (JD) has sold the TOPO Distillery building and its equipment.
In 2012, Maitland bought the low brick building at 505 W. Franklin St., former home of the local newspaper, and replaced its printing press with distilling vats, transforming The Chapel Hill News building into the Chapel Hill booze building. In 2022, he sold the space to real estate developer Northpond Partners, and he sold the distillery equipment to the investors who purchased Maple View Farms.
The dairy, known for its ice cream, plans to turn 1,000 acres into a vineyard for table grapes. The distillery equipment will be used to turn excess or spoiled grapes into alcohol.
Maitland helped persuade state legislators to approve regulations allowing distilleries to sell directly to consumers. Now that the TOPO Distillery has been dismantled, tipplers can purchase TOPO products, while they last, at local ABC stores.
Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery remains open on East Franklin Street, though its Great Room and Back Bar spaces have closed permanently.
— Nancy E. Oates