Eat local — downtown

After the Friends of Downtown meeting held last month at Greenbridge condos, Nancy OatesI met a friend for lunch at Roots Bakery, Bistro and Bar that had opened recently on East Franklin Street. I had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten since moving to Chapel Hill nearly 20 years ago. Yet during the hour-plus I sat at the table, I noticed only two other groups stop by for lunch.

Similarly, my daughter and I went out for a celebratory lunch a few weeks ago at La Residence on West Rosemary Street that had a lunch special on par cost-wise with a fast-casual place. We had a delicious meal, yet only two other tables were occupied.

A waitress can’t survive on a lunch crowd of fewer than a dozen people, much less the restaurant owner. Having more people live downtown benefits the area in many ways, but apparently they don’t go out for lunch.

Our downtown merchants can’t stay in business without customers. Parking isn’t the problem. I found a space immediately in the Wallace Deck and paid $1.50; La Rez covered my parking beneath 140 West.

I’d like to hear from readers who don’t go downtown. What keeps you away? And I’d like to hear from downtown merchants about what you think needs to be done to bring more paying customers downtown.

In the meantime, here are some new businesses — or long-standing ones with new offerings — you might want to try:

Mediterranean Market, 414 W. Franklin St., opened by Med Deli owner Jamil Kadoura next door to his restaurant, sells Med Deli-brand olive oil and ingredients used in Jewish and Arab cuisines, as well as spices from Turkey and Iran and Halal meat.

Jasmin Mediterranean Bistro, 100 W. Franklin St., with locations in Raleigh and Cary, offers Lebanese and Greek dishes in the restaurant or catered offsite. Owners Nawwaf Said and Bayan Said have run restaurants in the Triangle for the past 20 years.

Trolly Stop Hot Dogs, 306-B W. Franklin St., opened by Rick Coombs, lets customers choose from five types of hot dogs, one a vegetarian dog, six if you count the hamburger shaped like a hot dog. You select toppings that range from the traditional mustard, slaw, chili and onions to the adventuresome melted cheddar, jalapenos and bacon bits.

Roots Bakery, Bistro and Bar, 161 E. Franklin St., melds Central American flavors with Southern cuisine. Owners Turtle Harrison, Rolando Ordonez Ramos and Juan Jose Ordonez serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, opening at 7 a.m. and closing only after the last customer leaves.

On Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., La Residence, 202 W. Rosemary St., serves crepes, $8 apiece, either savory or sweet varieties. Park in the underground lot at 140 West and ask your server for a chit to pay for parking.

This summer, treat yourself to lunch downtown, and make sure these new places last until the crowds return in the fall.
– Nancy Oates

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15 Comments

  1. Terri

     /  July 6, 2015

    There are people eating out on Franklin St. Med Deli and Sandwhich are generally packed at lunchtime. vimala’s is usually busy as is Buns. Maybe the problem isn’t due to anything other than new businesses not doing their homework or advertising. I work downtown and have no idea where Roots is–this is the first I’ve heard of it. La Rez has a history of being exclusive and highly priced. If they want to overcome that history, they need to let the public know. Word of mouth only works in close knit communities.

  2. George C

     /  July 6, 2015

    Nancy,

    Thanks for giving a plug to these local businesses. I should also point out for folks who might not know, that if you’re parking in either the Wallace Deck or Lot#2 (Columbia & Rosemary) seniors (60 and up) can park for 1/2 price. Just ask for the senior rate when leaving.

  3. Nancy

     /  July 6, 2015

    Wow, I didn’t know about the parking discount, George. Getting older just keeps getting better.

    Terri — Roots is at 161 E. Franklin St. Costs a little more than fast-casual, but well worth it. Here’s the website: http://www.rootschapelhill.com/.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 6, 2015

    I’m confused. I thought Fosters was renamed “Roots”.

    Menu looks great.

  5. Liane Salgado

     /  July 6, 2015

    I got so used to parking problems and crowds of oblivious young people, mixed with a lot of panhandlers, that I quit even trying to go downtown. I live just outside the bus lines, so parking is essential.

    I tend to go to Carrboro, although I occasionally go to Vimala’s because it is so excellent, but the parking *is* really bad there. Maybe because of the yoga studio that shares the parking lot. I didn’t know about Roots either.

  6. George C

     /  July 6, 2015

    Fosters became the Root Cellar Cafe & Catering

  7. Paul Hrusovsky

     /  July 7, 2015

    I live downtown. and own a downtown business.
    Also, I am a frequent user of yelp, the on- line reviewer.
    I find it hard to frequent la Rez because of their blatant
    disregard for the noise ordinance sometimes having loud dj driven parties until 2:30 am during the week.
    Parking is not an issue, I walk but several of my friends who no longer come downtown say it is dirty, don’t like to constantly walk around the homeless sprawled on the sidewalk, and say there are not enough adult focused businesses. People ride bikes on the sidewalk and there is seldom a police presence. No policemen walking the beat.
    I want the downtown to succeed but find it is more pleasant on West Franklin than East Franklin St. For almost two years I have worked on some minor repairs on the street with the city and have found out it is almost impossible to get things done!

  8. Bruce Springsteen

     /  July 8, 2015

    I wonder if maybe part of this is reputation and how it takes some time to change that. Downtown CH got a reputation for being not a place to go and for being expensive and it takes awhile to change that. When a place becomes a Place To Go the effect becomes exaggerated and then it becomes exaggerated in the other direction when it’s no longer a Place To Go.

    Also, re. the comment about servers not being able to survive on low traffic, I find it interesting that in a place like CH where people talk about living wages and such nobody minds servers getting paid by their employers $2.13 per hour or whatever and relying on the public for the rest.

    When Wal-Mart pays wages so low that some workers need public assistance to get up to a living wage, people around here get upset. But when restaurants pay wages much lower than Wal-Mart and rely on the public to pick up the rest, nobody cares. What’s the difference?

    And in fact, the practice spreads beyond regular restaurants. I’ve seen a tip jar in fast food restaurants around here. And I don’t mean specialty places like Ben & Jerry’s, although the tip jars are there too. I mean an actual restaurant where you walk up to the counter, order your food, wait for it, then get it and walk away.

    Some people say that service suffers if you pay a flat wage instead of relying on tips but other countries manage to pay a flat wage and still get good service. Why can’t we?

  9. Great post Nancy. I love the Mediterrnean Deli and go often. Parking on West Franklin is less daunting than East.

    I’d like to go downtown more often but parking is the #1 deterrent for those of us driving to downtown restaurants. The parking machines are a huge pain and difficult to read in the noon time glare. The new underground parking is scary and forbidding. Don’t know if that can be improved.

  10. Minerva

     /  July 9, 2015

    Julie,

    Have you considered taking a free bus to downtown during the day, like most downtown employees and students do?

  11. Joe Blow

     /  July 10, 2015

    I don’t understand the comments about parking. There’s tons of parking everywhere, at least along West Franklin St. I go to West Franklin St. just about daily for one reason or another, and have never had a problem finding parking. There are over a dozen lots and decks in addition to street parking downtown, and rarely are they all full.

    Do the people who say that parking is a problem expect to park, literally, at the front door of every business they patronize? Are they perhaps just making up “parking problems” for some ulterior reason? Are they perhaps saying that there are “parking problems” based on their memories of downtown from 20 years ago? Do they perhaps have poor eyesight and/or situational awareness, and maybe shouldn’t be driving in the first place?

    I think that people who perpetuate this false notion that parking is tough to find downtown should quite honestly, be somewhat ashamed of themselves, because they are directly harming all of our downtown businesses.

  12. many

     /  July 11, 2015

    As of last year when UNC was in session, I can say at many times I experienced difficulties parking.

    My perception is that over the past 10 years the parking situation in Chapel Hill has improved.

    Right now, (probably when local businesses need it most) parking is plentiful, and like Nancy I enjoy dinner or lunch out with family. We also enjoy take-away from restaurants such as Mint (ummmm Vindaloo).

    What keeps us from doing it more often is that activities often take us in different directions.

    I completely agree that the parking kiosks are not intuitive and hard to use. Let’s hope that the town implements a system that can use apps such as PayByPhone Parking and SpotHero in the near future,

  13. Bruce Springsteen

     /  July 12, 2015

    I think the lack of parking thing may be a misconception. I was under the impression there wasn’t much parking but then not too long ago I went to the trouble to do the research and there is actually a good bit of it. But a problem is that I had to go to the trouble to do the research to find out.

    I think a general problem with the business atmosphere around here is that as far as attracting customers goes, it’s considered beneath business to do a lot beyond setting up their business. It’s like, “We started a nice restaurant on Franklin St and now it the public’s duty to come to it. We don’t need to convince them that a we’re good option, we’re here and that’s enough.”

    But that’s not how the world works. We sit around and put down Southpoint because they have big parking lots and Wal-Mart because they’re Wal-Mart but know what those guys do a lot better than does Frankin St? Attract customers.

    Why did I have to do the research to learn that there’s a good bit of parking on/near Franklin St? How many other people are there who still don’t know that and avoid Franklin St as a result? Why do we learn of new restaurants via a political blog or word of mouth or whatever? If businesses want customers they need to court them, not just open their doors and wait.

  14. Joe Blow

     /  July 13, 2015

    But a problem is that I had to go to the trouble to do the research to find out.
    There are the large, blue Parking signs that you could just see with the same eye sight that you use to drive said vehicle that needs parking.
    If businesses want customers they need to court them, not just open their doors and wait.
    Bruce, there’s a long list of successful, public facing businesses that do just that, in fact.

  15. Bruce Springsteen

     /  July 13, 2015

    The problem is, I can’t see those large, blue parking signs from my house. And if I’m under the impression that parking is hard to find on Franklin St, I never get over there to see those large, blue parking signs.

    But even that said, it would nice if there was outreach notifying people where the parking is so that when they do get to Franklin St they know where they’re going instead of trying to figure it out while simultaneously navigating stop signs, stoplights, pedestrians, bikers and whatever else.

    IOW, the easier you make it for people for people to come to your business, the more likely it is they’ll come to your business. If a business is so good that all they have to do to succeed is open their door and wait then that’s great but not every business is that good.

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