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Overlooked Zoning Technicality Threatens To Halt Restaurant's Lunch Business

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The owner of a popular restaurant was steaming Wednesday.

Red, Hot and Blue in Chapel Hill is in hot water because the restaurant has been serving lunch for years -- illegally.

An obscure, 34-year-old zoning technicality could cost the popular lunch spot its daytime crowd.

Jim Groot, the owner of the restaurant on Elliott Road, is caught between a rock and a hard place. His franchise agreement requires him to stay open for lunch, but the old zoning restriction says he can't.

The news came as a surprise to customers and to Groot, who has been serving lunch here for 10 years.

"Before I even made this deal to buy this place, I met in here with the previous owner three times during lunch," Groot said Wednesday as the lunchtime crowd rolled in. "I mean, lunch was being served here a decade before I got here."

Groot estimated that, including catering, lunch makes up about 50 percent of his business. But that could all be quashed by a piece of paper that forbids Red, Hot and Blue from serving lunch without a permit.

Chapel Hill uncovered the obscure restriction while researching another matter. Town Manager Cal Horton said that once the town knew about the violation, it was obligated to take action.

The restaurant has until Monday to change its permit or close the doors for lunch.

Horton said he can't explain why the restriction has been overlooked for so many years. But he said Chapel Hill is doing all it can to help.

"We're eager to find a way for Jim Groot and Red, Hot and Blue to be relieved of this arcane provision," Horton said.


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