Gone are the times when local drug stores pulled triple duty as soda fountains and burger joints, but Sutton’s Drug Store in Chapel Hill has been keeping the tradition of a hot grill and cold drinks right behind the aisles alive and well since 1923.
A storied landmark on Franklin Street, Sutton’s certainly has the walls to prove its Chapel Hill pedigree. Every available inch of space is covered in photos of regular patrons and Chapel Hill royalty alike. The photos started appearing in 1983, originally as a way to cover blank space above the tables, but have since evolved into a signature feature of the establishment. More than 4,000 photos currently adorn the walls, with thousands more in storage.
Sutton’s was a functioning pharmacy until 2015, but everything else inside has remained relatively unchanged for the last nine decades. Things change slowly in Sutton’s, from the menu and table settings to the customers and decor. The same faces appear in booths each morning for breakfast on schedules steady as clockwork, and people bring in their own pieces of Chapel Hill history. In fact, it isn’t unheard of for Tar Heel basketball players to drop off a jersey to hang on the wall when their time on the Carolina court is over. Sutton’s seems to have a way of sticking with its customers, and its staff.
Don Pinney, the general manager, began working at the store when he was only 13 years old. His parents met at the store, and worked there back in the day — when Sutton’s included a cosmetics counter and a toy section. A frequent winner of local “best-of” awards, Sutton’s is a must for any out-of-towner to experience — and taste — a piece of Chapel Hill history. Whether it’s an old-fashioned burger, Roy’s Reuben or the Dean Dome Deluxe, you can’t go wrong when ordering at the Sutton’s counter.