Chapel Hill’s Pepper’s Pizza closes after 25 years

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 07:03 PM

The Chapel Hill restaurant Pepper’s Pizza closed Monday night after more than 25 years on Franklin Street.

After its last night in operation, restaurant owner David Pepper Harvey was in the restaurant at 107 E. Franklin St. Tuesday morning cleaning up.

Harvey said the restaurant, which he opened in 1987 in a spot down the street, has seen a decline in business in the past several years.

“The last three years we just haven’t done enough business,” he said. “People don’t come downtown anymore.”

Harvey said parking downtown is an issue, and he believes fewer University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students are coming off campus to dine due to better on-campus food options.

“The biggest thing is that the college kids, they’re trapped on campus,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the whole new generation of kids that their parents, they fill up their cards so they eat on campus, and it’s like they’re safer keeping their kids on campus. There’s just nobody down here.”

Harvey opened Pepper’s Pizza in July 1987 at 128 E. Franklin St., he said.

Previously, Harvey was the owner of Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill, he said. When a space opened on the other side of the street at 144 E. Franklin St., which now is the home of a Bank of America ATM, he said he moved Schoolkids there.

Harvey said he opened Pepper’s in the former Schoolkids space. He said he didn’t want to give up the location, and he had friends in the pizza business who showed him the pizza business ropes.

“(It) turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Harvey, who sold the Chapel Hill Schoolkids in 1996.

In 2006, Pepper’s moved to its current location at Franklin at 107 E. Franklin St. Harvey said he saw a big decline in business due to the recession, and he continued to see subsequent declines. 

“The bars at midnight – there’s way more people downtown at midnight than there are at any time during the day,” Harvey said. “I mean the kids still manage to get down here at night, but they surely don’t get here to eat lunch.”

Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said Pepper’s Pizza was a Chapel Hill icon.

Nelson said the first meal his wife wanted on the way home from the hospital after giving birth was at Pepper’s.

“The food is great, the people are fantastic, I’m very sorry to see it go,” he said.

Nelson said he didn’t know the particular circumstances of the closure of Pepper’s, but said chamber officials do heard from restaurant owners that the growth and improvement in quality of on-campus dining has a negative impact on Franklin Street, particularly on lunch business.

“That’s why we think the new residential (development) in our downtown is gonna do wonders,” he said. “It will have a positive impact on retail and restaurants downtown.”

Harvey said Pepper’s was busy on its last night of business on Monday. He said they had to turn customers away.