Cafe Carolina and Bakery, one of the longest-running spots where downtown Raleigh workers and visitors could get a quick lunch, is leaving its spot on the first floor of the Wells Fargo building.
Owner Ron Hines said the company will close the Fayetteville Street spot Nov. 13 after 18 years in the location. Hines said he hopes to reopen in a smaller space in a matter of months but did not identify a new site.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Hines said of the move, which he’s been working on for a year. “It hits me in my heart and soul. We’re a part of downtown, and downtown is an important part of what Cafe Carolina is. We’ve seen all the cycles of downtown. The ups and downs, the construction, the building of (Fayetteville Street).”
Over the years, Hines said, the Wells Fargo location’s sales mostly have been takeout orders, leaving many of the tables empty in the 3,800-square-foot space as downtown diners took their lunches back to work. The cafe is the company’s only restaurant not open on weekends or for dinner.
“So we’re paying for this huge dining room and space, but we’re closed on the weekends,” Hines said. “You have to adapt to the times. At one point (before major layoffs) Cafe Carolina was a meeting place and hub for people and we utilized all the space.”
J.D. McNeill of Spectrum Properties, which handles leasing for space in the Wells Fargo Building, said a replacement hasn’t been lined up yet, but a number of companies have shown interest. He expects the space to be filled by another restaurant concept.
But the Wells Fargo restaurant is the oldest one in its original location, surviving before Fayetteville Street went from a pedestrian thoroughfare to open street in 2006.
With downtown bursting with new dinner concepts, but far fewer on-the-go lunch options, Cafe Carolina helped fill that void.
Hines said the company will look to move into a smaller space soon. The move is tied to a large redesign of Cafe Carolina’s image and food, Hines said, with renovations expected to the Cameron Village location and changes to the company’s menu.
“We’re looking to create a more contemporary menu,” Hines said.
That will mean more flatbread, panini and salad options and potentially the addition of some gluten-free items, Hines said. Some previously retired items will return, Hines said, including an Asian salad, corned beef and housemade lox. Other Cafe Carolina locations have a Sunday brunch, and Hines said the goal is to add that to downtown when it finds its new location.
“We’re leaving but not for good,” Hines said.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson