The Tar Heel Café became quite popular in its short five months as a functioning business for its cheap food and delivery services. It was also student-owned and operated, at least initially, making it a valuable resource for both food and employment for students who were struggling financially. Students could purchase $20 (now $369) meal tickets good for a month of three meals a day, so when the three owners (not students) fled one night with about $600 (now $11,056) in outstanding meal tickets directly following a ticket sale drive, there was an uproar. Its abrupt closure greatly impacted one of Chapel Hill’s most vulnerable student demographics, especially because Swain Hall, the university’s dining hall at the time, had fallen into extreme disrepair and then closed. This caused significant outcry, as many students and faculty felt the dining hall had an irreplaceable and significant positive impact on their health and success as the most stable and accessible source of “wholesome food” available.
The existence and closure of the Tar Heel Café was significant because it reflected the dire straits Chapel Hill found itself in during the Great Depression. Its popularity, evidently of a magnitude they couldn’t keep up with, reflected its importance as a source of cheap food and employment for students. The illicit circumstances of its closure speak to the desperation of its three owners, who went so far as to demand students take care of their unpaid tabs while on the lamb, hastening their capture (1). This desperation was compounded by the instability of food suppliers on campus; businesses could not flourish because of what Hammer identifies as an “absence of a college commons”, and Swain Hall was out of commission supposedly because maintenance was too costly. As a result, students faced a two-front war in an effort merely to find adequate nutrition; they had to find an option that was both affordable and reliable, and by example of the Tar Heel Café, there was no such option. As such, health and academics both suffered greatly. The push to reopen Swain Hall by students and health administrators alike (2) was an effort to meet these needs and would establish a standard for UNC administration to support these provisions in the future.
1. Herschfeld, Herbert H. “Student Tells How Letter Trapped Cafe Embezzlers.” The Daily Tar Heel(Chapel Hill), May 05, 1936. Accessed November 5, 2018. https://universityofnorthcarolinaatchapelhill.newspapers.com/image/67784230/?terms=tar heel cafe.
2. “Health Administration Statements.” Health Administration Statements (Chapel Hill), December 11, 1935. Accessed November 5, 2018. https://universityofnorthcarolinaatchapelhill.newspapers.com/image/67783849/?terms=swain hall.