Beat the Heat and Support Community at The Purple Bowl

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Community-driven expansion at the West Franklin Street business encourages connections with UNC, empowers employees and fosters inclusion with each cool treat

The Purple Bowl

By Elizabeth Poindexter

Hanging on the wall of local eatery The Purple Bowl on West Franklin Street is a piece of art depicting stars of the sky on July 26, 2017 – a gift from a customer meant to capture its opening day – or rather, night.

The family business doubled its size in May 2022 with a 1,500-square-foot expansion to accommodate a better working space for its more than 60 employees, the majority of whom are also students at UNC. Ten percent of its employees are people who have an intellectual or developmental disability – a deliberate way in which CEO Paula Gilland aims to create a sense of community just feet from the Chapel Hill campus.

“Some of those folks might need a buddy or partner,” Paula says. “It was really hard to accommodate that in the working space that we had.”

The Purple Bowl - Paula
Gilland and Lucio Romano
Paula Gilland and Lucia Romano in The Purple Bowl kitchen.

Lucia Romano, who has Down syndrome, has improved her abilities across the board from acaí bowl production to point of sale to catering.

“Now that we have this place, it’s easier to move around a bit more,” Lucia says. “I’m working on making more friendships.”

Most of the expansion is kitchen or prep space; there are a handful of new chairs and tables for customers. It creates opportunity for community building behind the counter so they can better serve their customers – ranging from college students to older adults.

“We see every piece of the puzzle here,” Paula says. “It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s not just something that’s just talked about.”

McClaren Hopper, an undergraduate student in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media works alongside Lucia. Part of her role includes a new coffee station in the expansion and more opportunities to interact with customers and employees.

“It makes you figure out how to collaborate with other people and collaborate together,” McClaren says. “That makes us change our mindset when we come to work.”

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Chapel Hill Magazine

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