By Laurie Paolicelli
Wall Street Journal Gives Props to Carrboro United: A Food Hub for Our Times
Orange County has always been good at re-envisioning. Instead of focusing on what might have worked in the past we look to the future and ask, “How can we do this better?”
This is the spirit animating our chefs as they re-imagine how we eat, making to-go meals for a new era. Prepared foods are the order of the day.
Restaurant food at home isn’t a marketing slogan – its reality. Forced to pivot to survive in the face of the pandemic, restaurants in Orange County are producing a new profusion of top-quality ready-to-eat foods for pickup and delivery.
Think gourmet seafood pasta, scallops, tenderloin and crème Brule. And leave it to the chefs and foodies in these North Carolina college towns to become so good at it that the Wall Street Journal heralds their success.
The Carrboro United Local Food Hub is a central food hub that efficiently and safely feeds residents and neighbors for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak. Conceived as an urgent response to the potential loss of our food economy at the beginning of the pandemic, Carrboro United has not only been a safe way for the community to enjoy delicious meals but has been a lifeline for restaurants, farmers, and local food artisans.
The idea originated In March, as stay-at-home orders rolled out across the country. Longtime restaurant owner Kevin Callaghan, chef/owner of Acme Food and Beverage in Carrboro first considered takeout. But he suspected that his and other businesses could do better if they banded together. So he and a group of chefs and other food producers combined efforts in Carrboro United: a one-stop shop for produce, fresh meat, and prepared meals, ordered online and available for pickup in a shared location three times a week. Customers can order, say, boeuf bourguignon for four from Beau Catering, two dozen eggs from Latta’s Egg Ranch and a Chili braised beef brisket, with jalapeno cheddar grits and spicy bacon collards (Nut-Free and Gluten-Free) from Luna’s Carrboro Rotisserie. Then, at pickup, masked and smiling workers bring orders to their cars. “Restaurants provide hospitality. One piece of that is convenience and one piece is service,” Callaghan said. “It had to be easy for the guests. There was no way it was going to work if it was hard.”
Since its March launch Carrboro United has generated $1 million in sales, dollars that are funneled back into the hyper-local food economy. This milestone is marked by Carrboro United relocating its contactless, drive-through style food hub permanently to University Place in Chapel Hill. With this move, the local food hub will be easily available to Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Durham customers and will include additional Chapel Hill and Durham vendors.
“When we launched Carrboro United back in March, we had no idea how long it would be needed or what to expect,” said Zoë Dehmer, Director of Operations & Planning at Acme Food & Beverage and one of the founders of Carrboro United. “What began as a grassroots initiative has now become an integral part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro food economy. We are excited to be able to expand our reach to include more restaurants and be more accessible to local families.”
“We can’t thank our beautiful community enough for their support while we worked through the logistics of continuing to serve up the food that we love in a socially distanced world,” said Beau Bennett, Beau’s Catering. “Whether you place your order through the restaurants directly or through Carrboro United, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for your business. We hope that we can play a small role in making your quarantine safer, easier, and more delicious.”
Clearly, this pandemic is far from over; hard times are ahead for all of us. But thanks to the creativity and empathy of these local chefs, delicious dining has never been easier or safer. Just log on to the website, order, pay ahead, and drive to the spacious parking lot at University Place in Chapel Hill. Servers like Manfred Franz, Amarandi Barrett, and Isaiah brown will take it from there.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.