The Chapel Hill-Carrboro community is mourning the recent passing of Robin Britt, co-owner of Merritt’s Store & Grill.
“I think they’re going to miss that mother figure that she provided in Chapel Hill. I mean, there’s not a lot of people that stand firm, and want to know people. And that’s what she was all about.”
That’s interior designer Lucinda Poole. She’s a close friend of Robin Britt, the co-owner of Merritt’s Store & Grill, a beloved Chapel Hill institution since 1929.
Robin Britt died on April 25, nine months after she was diagnosed with cancer. She was 61.
She was born Robin Noel in Richmond, Virginia on July 14, 1952 – Bastille Day, as she liked to remind friends and family. She loved all things French.
Her son, 25-year-old Charles Britt, moved to North Carolina from Manhattan in September to help out with managing the store after his mother was diagnosed.
He was there this past Monday morning, when Merritt’s was packed with customers who wanted to express their condolences and share memories. Some created a memorial by placing flowers, cards and stuffed animals on the bench in front of the store.
Some paid tribute by simply buying one of those famous BLTs that made Merritt’s a destination spot for foodies, as well as blue-collar workers or anyone else who just wanted the best sandwich in Chapel Hill.
Charles said that Robin put a lot of love into that BLT. She called it a “love sandwich.” She insisted on using locally sourced ingredients. And she put the same love and care into how the place looked, and how it felt to be there.
Robin Britt and her husband Bob took over the business back in 1991. In 2008, they decided to renovate Merritt’s to make it more of a sit-down, family-friendly atmosphere, which now includes live bluegrass music just about every weekend.
“She loves just the beauty in rustic things, and the beauty in people,” says Charles Britt. “And she wanted it to be more of a community and a gathering point. It really was her mission field to share God’s love just with the community, even if it’s just through a quick conversation or a pat on the back.”
Robin’s motto for Merritt’s was “Where the country meets the university.” And it truly is a melting pot, says Charles.
“You’d have the plumber sitting next to a psychiatrist, or a professor” says Charles. “And the conversation that would rise up out of that is just amazing.”
On Monday, a customer told Charles a story about a time Robin looked out the window of Merritt’s and spotted two fellows pushing a car up the hill on Columbia Street.
They came in to buy a drink, and she gave both of them jobs, on the spot.
Her friend Lucinda Poole recalls an outgoing person with a deep Christian faith, who treated everybody that came through Merritt’s door as a friend – and not in a superficial way. Robin Britt was genuinely interested in the lives of other people, their families, and how they were doing.
“People will say, ‘I met her once, and I’ve never forgotten it,’” says Poole. “And I said to her, ‘What do you do to people?’ And she said, ‘I always found that the most interesting thing about people is what they weren’t saying.’”
Charles Britt says that Robin held onto that faith and selfless regard for others all through her nine-month battle with cancer.
He says that was true even when she was bed-ridden during her final days.
“It was amazing that, even when she could hardly talk, her interest was in her visitors, and how to make them feel comforted, not herself” says Britt.
Crispy Bess is a local rock and roll guitar player in the bands Dexter Romweber and the New Romans, Killer Filler and Phatlynx.
He’s also something of an expert on great southern food. Years ago, he and his friend Hoppie Newton did a profile of Merritt’s for a short-lived show about barbecue on public access television.
From that day on, he says, Robin Britt treated Bess like a king every time he walked in the store. He’d get free food, a good table, and a heap of praise from Robin. He says that still floors him, to this day.
“I think that makes her, you know, truly exceptional,” he says. “You know, I cannot recall meeting anybody like that in my life before, and I think that we’re going to miss that.”
Robin Britt is survived by her husband Bob, and her sons Charles and Bobby.
A Celebration of Life is scheduled on May 25th at 3 p.m. at Aqueduct Conference Center in Chapel Hill.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends donate to the Robin Britt Memorial Fund. Charles says some of the money will go toward a memorial garden at the Aqueduct Conference Center. Some of it will go toward Robin Britt’s medical bills.