Orange County

New stores, restaurants coming, and coming back, to Blue Hill in Chapel Hill

More places to get fit, pick up pet supplies, and grab lunch or a drink with friends will open this year on South Elliott Road in the town’s Blue Hill District.

The area has seen big changes since the seven-story Berkshire Chapel Hill apartment and retail building opened in 2016. It was the first project built under the town’s form-based code, approved for the Blue Hill District in 2014, and has become an example of what some residents and Town Council members don’t want to see repeated.

Form-based codes give developers guidelines for the size and shape of buildings, and how to address stormwater, parking, landscaping and other details. Projects are approved by the town’s Community Design Commission, which holds public hearings, and by the town manager. The goal is to make the town approval process faster and more efficient.

The Berkshire struggled at first to fill its 266 apartments, which rent for $1,200 and up, but only a handful remain vacant now. It also has taken a while to fill the ground-floor retail spaces, but at least two new businesses are completing renovations. A third, Diva Nail Salon, has a “Coming Soon” sign in its window.

A former tenant will return to one of the renovated spaces next week.

Living Kitchen, a plant-based restaurant headquartered in Charlotte, opened its first storefront at the Berkshire in early 2017. By June 2018, the location was closed. Restaurant officials told radio station WCHL at the time they wanted a more suitable location.

The restaurant will reopen in the same space on Aug. 16, but the dining room is being sectioned off to create a “cozier” atmosphere, said marketing coordinator Alan Huck. Living Kitchen will have a smaller menu, including breakfast items and coffee from Counter Culture in Durham — a reflection of the company’s new cafe concept, which could be rolled out to other stores, Huck said.

“I think the exciting thing about how we’re approaching it this time is it’s difficult to find this quality of food and coffee in the same space,” Huck said. “We really pride ourselves on the presentation and the quality of the ingredients in our food.”

He declined to talk about what led the restaurant to close last year, but said they enjoyed being in Chapel Hill.

“Charlotte, even though it’s expanding, we grew up [there] so it feels like we’re embedded in the community even though it’s a massive, evolving place now,” Huck said. “Chapel Hill feels a little bit more homey. It’s just a nice, small community. It’s nice to be in close proximity to the universities as well.“

The Casual Pint

The storefront a few doors down has been vacant since the Berkshire opened, but renovations could bring a new craft beer bar and market, The Casual Pint, by October.

The business will feature a ground-floor beer and soda cooler with packaged options and singles to mix and match, plus a growler filler service. The second-floor mezzanine and patio will serve snacks and have 35 beers on tap. They also could have root or birch beer, kombucha and wines on tap, franchise owner Bill Darragh said.

A father and son duo started The Casual Pint in 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Both had extensive grocery careers, including in North Carolina, and wanted to capitalize on their love for craft beers, according to the company’s website. They’ve opened or sold a franchise for about 25 Casual Pints around the country, Darragh said.

Darragh is a former Boar’s Head Provisions Co. distributor who has lived in the area for 23 years. Craft beer and breweries are his passion, he said, and he and and his wife love to travel and entertain friends.

He’s also a “big Carolina fan” and UNC football season ticket holder, Darragh said. The Casual Pint won’t be a college bar, but it will be a good place to watch the games, he added. The patio will be pet-friendly.

The goal is making sure there’s a place for the community to have a good time without frustrating their neighbors with too much noise or crowds spilling onto the sidewalk, he said.

“There’s not really a place down in that side of Chapel Hill like that [since] Bailey’s restaurant closed a few years ago,” Darragh said. “Most of the places are restaurant heavy down that side, and it’s a growing area. The Blue Hill District, as you can see, buildings are popping up everywhere. We hope people can walk there.”

Village Plaza

Regency Centers, owner of the adjacent Village Plaza, also is wrapping up changes to the 72,862-square-foot shopping center, built in 1974.

Village Plaza has lost several longtime, local tenants in recent years, particularly when a mini-mall was demolished to make way for new spaces. The building’s exterior also is getting a facelift, limiting parking and access to the PTA Thrift Shop, another longtime tenant.

A public green space will be added to one corner of the parking lot near the Berkshire, Regency documents show, and a pedestrian crosswalk will connect the properties. Outdoor dining areas are planned for both ends of the Village Plaza strip.

With construction almost complete, Regency is signing new tenants. Only three storefronts — two of which could be combined to create a larger restaurant space — remain vacant, leasing documents show.

“Village Plaza is a fantastic shopping center surrounded by a great community,” Regency leasing agent Annie Dlugokecki said. “We want to ensure that it continues to be a destination for the future, and a place where exciting merchants and retailers want to do business.”

New businesses

The first new tenant, Hollywood Feed, will open Saturday in the space beside Whole Foods. The Memphis, Tennessee-based, pet supply store has four other North Carolina locations, including in Cary and Raleigh.

An Eat the Frog (ETF) Fitness franchise will open next door later this year, according to co-owner Darrick Fu. The fitness center, he said, is named for a quote from author Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing every morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

“It’s is a little bit of an intellectual spin on why do you want to work out,” Fu said. “That, for a lot of the general public, is their frog. The average person wants to exercise more and knows that they need to be more active, but they never quite get to it. Either that or they try something, get bored and fall off the bandwagon.”

ETF Fitness offers a science-based, personalized approach to athletic-level fitness for all ages and abilities, the Cary resident said. It will be open 24/7 — in person and through virtual access — with small-group training sessions and fitness evaluations every eight weeks.

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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.