When a group of UNC graduates heard the Carolina Coffee Shop might have to close, they invested in the restaurant in the hopes of preserving a well-established staple on Franklin Street.
This past summer, the Carolina Coffee Shop came under new ownership by a group of UNC graduate investors, including soccer Olympian Heather O’Reilly.
“None of us have restaurant experience, but we are certainly all-hands-on-deck learning as we go in this next new and exciting endeavor in all of our lives,” she said.
UNC graduates Jeff Hortman and Clay Schossow said the group had already been friends for a long time before deciding to invest.
“Everyone had some memory of (the Carolina Coffee Shop) too, so it’s interesting that that was the connective tissue among all of us,” Schossow said.
Changes have already been implemented in the coffee shop. On an aesthetic level, the floors, lights and hanging décor have been altered to reflect a more historic vibe, a feature the three-time gold medalist said is important to new ownership.
“We definitely want to preserve the sort of feel and history of the bones of this place,” O’Reilly said. “We certainly want to make it clear to students and the town that this is a place where you can come, eat, (have) coffee, meet up and study. We just want to be a meeting place that’s open to a lot of different things for the people of Chapel Hill.”
Despite all of the aesthetic changes, one thing will be staying the same,
“In terms of the name, it’s been around for a long time and we don’t want to change that,” O’Reilly said.
The group decided to invest partly because Carolina Coffee Shop has been an integral part of people's UNC experience. She said businesses on Franklin Street are central to the community.
The group of investors heard about the opportunity to buy the Carolina Coffee Shop, but it took some time before they chose to do so, O'Reilly said. After a couple of months and email exchanges, they were sold on the idea.
“It was definitely a thoughtful approach to ownership and we’re so excited we decided to do it,” O’Reilly said.
By the time O’Reilly graduated in 2006, she had already played on the U.S. Women’s National Team and had won an Olympic gold medal. Along with playing for the UNC women’s soccer team, O’Reilly said she remembers spending her weekends as an undergraduate student eating breakfast at the Carolina Coffee Shop.
“It’s in such a great location here on Franklin Street and I think that when you close your eyes and imagine Franklin Street, you imagine it with a Carolina Coffee Shop,” O’Reilly said. “I have that etched in my mind as a staple of the town and the street.”
Alex Pomer, another investor in the group, said he remembers eating lunch and going to the bar. He said the decision to invest has been a surreal experience because his mom is a UNC graduate and they both have fond memories of the restaurant.
O’Reilly said hearing stories of proposals and first dates at the establishment made her realize the sentimental value of Carolina Coffee Shop. She said her and the other owners feel pride that they're preserving the shop after hearing how it continued in significant times of American history.
The group of investors plan on keeping the restaurant around for awhile. The Carolina Coffee Shop will turn 100 years old in 2022, and the new owners said there will be a celebration for that event.
“We have a lot to celebrate in 2022 and we’re excited to keep this place alive for the next 100 years,” O’Reilly said.