The Best of Mexico

Ay Por Dios!, a newly opened bistro on West Franklin Street in The Courtyard business cluster, will showcase the diversity of Mexican cuisine, along with some specialties from other cultures.

After more than a year in the making due to town of Chapel Hill permitting delays, Edy Barahona opened Ay Por Dios! Mexican Bistro on West Franklin Street at the end of September.

Barahona owns Kahlovera Mexican Bar and Grill, a taco shop in Meadowmont in east Chapel Hill. But he longed to do more, and Franklin Street is the place to be for fine dining, he said. When Kipos Greek Taverna moved out of its anchor spot in The Courtyard business cluster, Ay Por Dios!, Oh My God in English, moved in.

The space has an expansive wraparound front porch for outdoor dining, as well as plenty of indoor seating and a private party space for a couple dozen guests. A full bar stretches through the main dining area and offers top quality rare spirits, including Clase Azul tequilas.

Barahona took time to craft an eclectic menu. Whereas his Meadowmont venue relies on traditional burritos, tacos and fajitas, Ay Por Dios! will showcase the diversity of Mexican cuisine, along with some specialties from other cultures — sushi, for instance, and shrimp tempura, white truffle carbonara and a crème brulé with berries.

“I wanted to bring something different to the people of Chapel Hill,” he said. “I wanted to bring the best of Mexico to the best place you can find.”

431 W. Franklin St.

Pizza shop boxes up

Teddy Diggs, owner of Coronato Pizza in Carrboro, issued a last call in mid-September. He would close his popular pizzeria in mid-October, giving his large fan base a month to savor one final pie.

Diggs, former executive chef at Il Palio in the Siena Hotel on East Franklin Street, opened Coronato in 2019. He served the thin-crust pizza traditional in Rome and had no shortage of customers in his compact pizzeria off the 15-501 bypass.

But trouble was in the air after Oasis Cigar Lounge opened next door in 2022. Diggs said second-hand smoke drifted into the restaurant and caused health issues for him and his wife, staff and customers. He said he met with the cigar bar’s owner and their mutual landlord to mitigate the smoke issue, but the problem continued.

Diggs brought in public health officials and a private company to conduct an air-quality test, which showed nicotine levels to be a thousand times the minimum limit, according to the N.C. Department of Labor report published by The Local Reporter. He closed the dining room and switched to takeout-only in February. In April, Diggs sued Oasis Cigar Club Inc., which operates the lounge, and the South Green Center landlord, Woodhill NC LLC. The lawsuit is pending.

Oasis said it has four industrial-strength air purification units at its business. “There are ozone filters in the unit,” Oasis said in a statement shared with WRAL, “and the HVAC units have been rerouted to negative air pressure, keeping all of the air inside.”

Woodhill NC representative Gary Hill said in a statement to WRAL, “We have taken significant steps to ensure proper ventilation between tenants which include the installation of commercial grade air cleaners, carbon filters, and an ozone generator.”

The pizzeria couldn’t survive on takeout-only. On Sept. 18, Diggs announced the closing in an Instagram post, saying, “[We]were hoping for a temporary fix until the challenging circumstances could be resolved. We have since exhausted ourselves, and our resources, while waiting for a solution that never came.”

In early October, Oasis closed, but it was too late for Diggs to reverse course on closing Coronato.

UNC expands Franklin Street holdings

The Library, a bar at 120 E. Franklin St. since 2003, closed temporarily during the pandemic. As its owner, A.J. Tama, made plans in 2021 to reopen, he said his landlord didn’t renew his lease. In July, UNC bought the building.

The University had already bought real estate on that south side of the 100 block of East Franklin and in 2021 opened for public comment plans for major redevelopment there. The thought of Carolina Coffee Shop succumbing to the wrecking ball got community members involved, and UNC ultimately agreed to preserve the façade of the coffee shop and allow the business to remain a tenant.

The University plans to raze existing buildings and construct 120,000 square feet of retail and office space, which will include UNC’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and the UNC Visitors Center.

The building housing The Library is between two parcels slated for redevelopment. Johnny T-Shirt and Cosmic Cantina also may lose their spots. The University has no plans at present for the space, but, as anyone who has played Monopoly knows, if you own Marvin Gardens and Atlantic Avenue, you sure as heck will pick up Ventnor Avenue when it becomes available.

The University’s property office is offering the 120 E. Franklin St. space for lease to a single business tenant, but The Library has moved on. Perhaps the space could be repurposed for another business that will lose its home, such as Johnny T-Shirt or Cosmic Cantina, suggested Brian Grabowski ’83 (MBA), who assisted with the building’s sale.

Rebranding falls short

Julie Paddison ’90 (’92 BSN) and her business partner Lew Hendricks shut the doors on their two dining establishments in the East 54 development on Raleigh Road at the end of September. In 2017, the two opened Bottle Rev, a taproom serving NoDa Brewing Co. beer, and rebranded it in 2021, during the pandemic, as Old East Tavern. A year later, they rebranded again, this time as NoDa Brewing Co. Tapas, and tweaked the menu. Earlier this year, they rebranded yet again, as The Dogwood bar and restaurant.

Paddison and Hendricks claimed the space next door for The Poplar Café, which opened in 2022, offering private working spaces along with coffee and Deli Edison bagels. The Dogwood and The Poplar partnered on an effort to raise money for two local pet organizations, Hope Animal Rescue and Beautiful Together Animal Sanctuary.

The eateries survived the challenges of a pandemic and equipment failures, but during the last week of September, Paddison and Hendricks posted an announcement on Facebook that they were turning their focus elsewhere.

“The restaurant business builds character and is not for the faint of heart,” the post read in part.

In 2019, Paddison and Hendricks opened a wine bar, RTP Uncorked, in Boxyard RTP, an innovative dining and entertainment venue created from shipping containers. It remains open. The two plan to pursue another opportunity at Boxyard.

— Nancy E. Oates

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