The road to an award-winning Wagyu beef sandwich ends in Chapel Hill. Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop opened in May on East Franklin Street after retrofitting the space formerly occupied by Waffle House and, even earlier, the legendary Pepper’s Pizza.
General Manager Nick Adams runs the Chapel Hill branch of the fast-casual national chain that has more than 100 locations in the U.S. He chose the downtown site specifically because of its proximity to campus. Excitement had been building for more than a year after the announcement in April 2022 that the shop was coming to town. But construction, inspection and permit delays pushed the grand opening into the post-graduation doldrums.
The slower summer pace gives locals a chance to try specialties such as The Bobbie, a hoagie piled high with turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing that aol.com named The Greatest Sandwich in America. “It’s Thanksgiving on bread,” Adams said.
The shop makes renowned cheese steaks and sandwiches built on Wagyu beef — “from a fancy cow,” Adams explained — locally raised. A particular fan favorite is the Slaw Be Jo, fancy cow topped with Southern slaw, provolone cheese, Russian dressing and mayo. The menu features a line of plant-based meat options and salads. Capriotti’s also caters events. Adams is planning a second grand opening once students return in August.
127 E. Franklin St.
A six-person team, all but one a Carolina alumnus, has transformed a former comedy club into a serious business that trains and mentors the next generation of service-business leaders.
Mike Griffin ’87 owns the historic building that previously housed The PIT Chapel Hill and DSI Comedy Theater before that. At the start of 2023, he worked with entrepreneurs Willie Barron ’20, Ben Jones, Oheneba Boateng ’22, Maddi Lane ’20 and Lilli Lamond ’23 to redevelop the space into a warren of business options and launch The Pitcher Program.
Barron, a graduate of Launch Chapel Hill business accelerator, had the vision for a program that would give students experience working in the service industry and learning to run a business. Barron started an app for nightlife in Chapel Hill in 2019 and worked as a bartender to learn more about the service industry. The Pitcher Program takes that experience a step further, by teaching someone not only how to be a barista, for example, but the bookkeeping and operational aspects of running a profitable business as well.
The three-story, 6,300-square-foot building, called The Pitch, will have a coffee shop and a state-of-the-art event space with the technology to stream events. The basement level has co-working spaces, a flexible performance space and elegant conference rooms that add professionalism to Zoom interviews. Jones, the project manager, is renovating an attic apartment into a green room where bands and celebrities can prep for their shows. Barron hopes to open the business before students return in the fall.
The Pitch is a for-profit venture, but Barron hopes to work with nonprofits on fundraisers. He’s working with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership to activate the west end of Franklin Street, and by helping students realize their service-based business ideas, he can seed new careers as well.
462 W. Franklin St.
At age 80, Homa Jahannia finds she can’t run her vegetarian restaurant, Sage, the way she used to. With the lease on her café in Timberlyne Shopping Center in the north part of town ending May 31, and her landlord raising the rent significantly, she decided it was time to hang up her apron. She closed Sage the last day of May.
Jahannia opened Homa’s Pizza in the early 1990s. A decade later she was ready to retire and had found a buyer. But the deal didn’t work out, so she tied on her apron again, this time opening Sage. Everyone in her family is a vegetarian, so she already knew the dishes she wanted to serve. Her son, Ramin Jahannia, joined her in starting what at the time was the only vegetarian restaurant in town.
“Everyone said, ‘Are you crazy? You’ll never make it,’ ” she said. “But we took a chance, and we were successful from day one. We had no competition.”
For the next 20 years, Jahannia and her son made crowd pleasers such as osh, a special Persian soup with lentils, spinach and noodles; bud-m-joon, which is “eggplant paradise,” Jahannia said, with tomatoes, split peas and spices; and gormeh sabzi, a Persian potato stew. Her personal favorite is fesen-joon, a soup of pomegranate juice, agave nectar and walnuts.
About ending her successful business, Jahannia said, “I feel bad for our customers. They’re lovely people. We were very happy with our customers, and they were very happy with us.”
But there’s hope. Jahannia set out a book in her restaurant for customers to write their contact information to be notified if her son opens a new restaurant. He’s scouting out venues. “We may open a better place,” she said.
Will Jahannia finally retire? “I’m old; I worked very hard,” she said. “But if he needs help, I’ll help him.”
1129 Weaver Dairy Road
Alan Cohen, the namesake of Crazy Alan’s Emporium, plans to retire in August. But the store will live on.
Cohen opened Office Supplies and More in 1996 on Franklin Street. But the difficulty of parking downtown pushed customers to big-box stores. Student clientele wasn’t enough to keep the business going.
So in 2005, he moved to Timberlyne Shopping Center, with plenty of free parking out front. He expanded his inventory, and business improved.
Then in 2014, Cohen had a stroke. Once he recovered and returned to work, he changed the business name to reflect his new outlook on life, and business picked up markedly.
“Realtors talk about location, location, location,” he said. “But for me, it was name, name, name.”
Cohen began attending pen expos in 2014, and his collection has grown ever larger. Crazy Alan’s has one of the largest selection of pens of any store in the U.S., he said.
With his lease ending in August, Cohen decided to devote himself to pens. He found two buyers for most of his merchandise and for the store name. The new owners, who were in the process of negotiating a lease in spring, will focus mainly on art supplies. If the negotiations are successful, the store will remain. Otherwise the new owners will open elsewhere.
Inventory the new owners declined to purchase will be sold at a deep discount through August. “Half the merchandise will be on sale, and half won’t,” Cohen said.
1129 Weaver Dairy Road
— Nancy E. Oates