Students flooded to Raising Cane’s new location on the Corner Tuesday morning to celebrate the restaurant’s opening with a raffle drawing for a year of free food and a formal ribbon cutting ceremony complete with a pep squad. Through the elaborate opening following weeks of promotion, the management behind the new restaurant aim to connect with the local community and maximize the potential of the location being so central to the University.
Tuesday’s grand opening marks the second Raising Cane’s in Charlottesville. Charlottesville’s other Raising Cane’s location, on Route 29, is notoriously popular and has caused traffic issues due to its busy drive-thru.
With rents increasing on the Corner, students have seen frequent business turnover in recent years. Many smaller, local businesses have left the area. The Cane’s Corner location was formerly occupied by Sheetz, which closed in 2021. The building was vacant for nearly a year before Cane’s — a national chain — began construction last year.
Energy was high opening morning as the line of students snaked down the Corner for a chance to win the “Lucky 20” raffle drawing for a year of free Cane’s — which includes three free meals a month for the next 12 months. One student winner, second-year College student Will Holland, was the first student inside the restaurant after waiting outside the restaurant since 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I think the Corner is a really cool place for this [business]”, Holland said. “I love Raising Cane’s and having free Cane’s for the next year is amazing.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony with the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce followed the raffle. The University mascot and Cheerleading team were present to celebrate, and a DJ was hired for the day. The first 100 customers received free customized t-shirts.
University cheerleaders helped celebrate the opening by cheering on raffle winners and welcoming in customers after doors officially opened. Mackenna Caruso, cheerleader and second-year College student, said she plans to eat at Cane’s often and thinks the new location will be a hit with students.
“We get asked to be in a lot of things as cheerleaders, but this by far has been the best thing I’ve ever been asked to do.” Caruso said. “Just remember, in darkness there’s always a light on the other side, and my light on the other side is Cane’s.”
Warren Sewell, regional leader of restaurants for Raising Cane’s, said his team aims to tie together both the University and Charlottesville communities through the new location.
“We understand how important the University is to Charlottesville and vice versa,” Sewell said. “We hope to be a household name and a staple for the students and the community, because it is a small town that's fueled by a very big university. We want to make sure people feel comfortable and they feel at home.”
The restaurant’s interior features many homages to University life such as framed U.Va. varsity jackets, scarves and football attire. More modern elements like neon lights and disco balls hanging from the ceiling break up the vintage feel.
In preparation of opening, the Cane’s location has already hired nearly 115 new employees, including managers, and has conducted training over the past three weeks. Sewell said the high number of employees was strategically chosen to anticipate high demand.
“Once we get to a steady state, where it's less crazy, those numbers might change,” Sewell said. “I don't know if that's ever going to happen.”
During this training period, the restaurant invited local business owners, University students and faculty to dine for free before doors officially opened. Sewell said that management planned these meals to connect with the local Charlottesville community.
Along with other members of the University, Victoria Pham, medical scribe and third-year College student, was invited in and received free food ahead of the opening. She said that the staff was very friendly during the promotion day she visited.
“They were very welcoming,” Pham said. “It was such a fun experience to have everyone welcome us in. I think I got six boxes for free that day to take home, so it was really cool.”
Students report they are generally excited about the opening of this new Raising Cane’s location so close to central Grounds, despite the possibility of increased foot traffic on the already busy University Avenue.
Andrew Pollard, fourth-year College student and Corner resident, said he thinks the new restaurant — open until 1 a.m. weekends — may in fact reduce lines at other late night options like the White Spot.
“Personally I'm pretty excited — I've actually never had Raising Cane's before and look forward to trying their food,” Pollard said.
Dan O’Connor, second-year Engineering student, mentioned some possible negative sides to the opening of a new chain close to Grounds.
“As someone who really enjoys Raising Cane’s I am excited by its opening, but of course there are concerns about a major chain opening in such an important area,” O’Connor said. “Foot traffic does concern me a bit — I imagine the initial excitement around its opening will be pretty dramatic but may calm down over the semester.”
While it remains to be seen how long the chicken frenzy will last, the restaurant joins over 740 Cane’s nationwide. The chain notably expanded with a 8,000 square feet Times Square flagship store and has over 100 other openings scheduled for this year.
Sewell said Cane’s franchise has seen success at other colleges such as Northwestern, Ohio State and University of Nebraska and he hopes the Charlottesville location will also blend well with student life.
“Charlottesville has been supportive of Raising Cane’s for a very long time,” Sewell said. “We've continued and will continue to give back by ensuring that we are helping the community we serve.”
Cane’s will be open weekdays 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and weekends until 1 a.m.