UNC Student-Led Coffee Shop Blue House Cafe Opens on Franklin Street

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Blue House Cafe co-owners Rebecca Felicelli and Alex Christian
Rebecca Felicelli and Alex Christian share a conversation in between serving customers during the soft launch of their Franklin Street coffee house.

Story and Photography by Caitlyn Yaede

Coffee was all too familiar to Rebecca Felicelli, Alex Christian and Gabriela “Gabi” Silva. Whether it was caffeine fueling their coursework at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School or studying in the comfort of a cozy cafe, all three UNC students agreed that coffee was the cornerstone of their college experiences. Starting a business from the ground up? That was far less familiar.

But hey, not many 20-year-olds can say they started and successfully launched their own enterprise.

The three juniors opened pop-up coffee shop Blue House Cafe at 462 W. Franklin St. in late October. Since their first day of business, these students transformed their passion for chai lattes and Americanos into the heart of their college town.

The close friends met through their involvement in the business school, but the extent of their coffee-making knowledge stems from Rebecca’s experience as a former barista. As business majors and coffee connoisseurs, all three admitted that they’ve always wondered what it would be like to run a cafe of their own. It wasn’t until they sat down in the booths of the business school’s McColl Cafe at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester that they made a concrete plan.

Blue House Cafe
Blue House Cafe’s red exterior is a relic from the building’s days as a comedy club and will soon be painted Carolina blue to reflect its name and the colors of the community.

And just like that, Rebecca, Alex and Gabi were preparing to pitch the idea of a Franklin Street cafe. After scouring for potential buildings, the three settled on a property owned by Mike Griffin, a 1987 UNC alumnus who is passionate about helping the next generation of young entrepreneurs. Gabi says, “I remember seeing this place and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, this has potential.'” The space – formerly a comedy club – is now The PITCH, which opened in August 2021 and works to help students pursue their entrepreneurship goals – such as Blue House Cafe and UNC’s Delta Sigma Phi entrepreneurship fraternity.

Blue House Cafe operates out of the front half of the building, equipped with marble countertops and floor-to-ceiling windows. The PITCH also operates the back half of the building, which serves as an event space. This partnership has allowed Rebecca, Alex and Gabi to form connections with other Chapel Hill businesses while fulfilling their dreams of operating a cafe. Making their presence known, however, hasn’t been easy. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here – or come in asking about the comedy club,” Gabi says.

To some extent, that’s because they’re all still full-time students who can’t dedicate all their time to marketing. “I’ll just be sitting in class and start worrying about the cafe,” Gabi says. Each of them, after all, is a student, manager, co-founder and barista. Well, the latter title mostly falls on Rebecca’s shoulders. “If you want latte art, Rebecca’s your girl,” Gabi laughs.

Blue House Cafe
Rebecca Felicelli sweeps the cafe during UNC’s finals exams week in early December.

The space has been surprisingly successful, though, despite some of the challenges. Blue House Cafe served more than 200 customers during the two-day soft launch in October. During the winter semester break, the owner is planning on large renovations of the building so all of the businesses are temporarily closed. They’ll paint the space’s red exterior blue – according to the cafe’s namesake – and the inside will see a fresh new design, including a gray accent wall and decor from local artists.

Blue House Cafe will reopen in January with more staff and expanded hours. The three friends hope this will allow them to build a stronger sense of community with their neighbors. “We feel so lucky,” Rebecca says, echoing that this is just the beginning.

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