This is how the restaurants on Franklin Street are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis


When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, restaurants on Franklin Street were hit twice.

UNC students, a significant source of income for many of these companies, have been off campus since March, and dining service has been banned nationwide since March 17.

Governor Roy Cooper’s current order is due to be replaced by a new, slightly relaxed set of restrictions on May 8th. However, if North Carolina enters Phase 1 of reopening under this new arrangement, restaurants will still be able to only serve takeout and delivery.

Don Pinney, owner of Sutton’s Drug Store, which now closes at 2:30 p.m., said the Franklin Street location currently generates about 35% of its normal sales.

For a family atmosphere restaurant with tar heel memorabilia on the walls, what draws a lot of customers to Sutton’s isn’t always the food, but the experience. It’s hard for the takeaway to replace that, said Pinney.

“Eating out of a styrofoam container just isn’t the same for our customers,” he said.

Sutton qualified for a small business loan under the Paycheck Protection Program at the start of the first round on April 3, Pinney said, but the loan took 22 days to process.

Pinney said he could use part of the loan to keep his waiters on payroll as they have no customers to wait for without food service.

Cosmic Cantina manager Yeshua Sanchez said the restaurant was only able to switch takeout and delivery service but received far fewer orders than when the students were on campus.

Sanchez said he estimated that there would be around 200 customers on a normal business day before the coronavirus. Since placing the order to stay at home, Sanchez said, Cosmic can serve 50 customers in a good day.

The Purple Bowl had an easy transition to a take-away-only service, thanks in large part to its mobile ordering app created in September, said Natalie Salib, a manager at the company. Salib said The Purple Bowl’s opening hours have been reduced to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

“We’re not getting the same numbers because people come in a lower percentage,” said Salib. “But thanks to our loyal customer base, we’re doing well enough to be open and functional.”

Salib said The Purple Bowl did not receive a PPP loan.

Sup Dogs was temporarily closed for two weeks in March and reopened on April 4, General Manager Claire Perry said. Perry said that hours of operation will be reduced to 12 noon to 9 p.m. daily and the number of employees who call for work has been reduced.

Sup Dogs qualified for a PPP loan during the second round of distribution that will help the restaurant’s two locations keep its employees on payroll, Perry said.

Some of the restaurants on Franklin Street have not done so well. LOTSA Stone Fired Pizza announced on its Facebook page the final closure of its Chapel Hill location, where it has been in business since 2015.

Others have been able to migrate to take-away and delivery-only services more smoothly.

Eddie Williams, owner of the 42-year-old Time-Out restaurant, said the restaurant was able to maintain normal opening hours of 24 hours a day, seven days a week without taking “time out” for the pandemic.

“We haven’t even closed a minute since this started,” Williams said.

Although Williams applied for a PPP loan, he said he hadn’t heard anything.

Time Out already had a working takeaway and delivery system in place, Williams said, which helped him move away from dine-in service entirely. But he said it was still difficult to keep business going without potential customers strolling down the street.

“If the entire university closes, it’ll take away half of our customer base,” Williams said.

@DTHCityState | [email protected]

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