CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A long-time campustown restaurant is shutting down permanently.
Zorba’s on Green Street in Champaign has been serving up Mediterranean food since 1973. “Zorba’s was actually opened by a couple of Greek guys from Chicago,” said Matt Mortenson. It is a U of I campustown classic marked by the vibrant colors and the made-to-order Mediterranean food.
Mortenson bought the restaurant in 1997. He and his family ran the business for decades before selling it three years ago. “I have four children and they all worked with me at some point there. A couple of them worked with me there for a long time,” said Mortenson. The closure brought up a mix of emotions as Mortenson recalled the years spent there. “It was kind of sad to actually know that it was really done.” It is the end of an era for Zorba’s.
The current owners decided to close it permanently. “They were buying it off of a contract from me and they couldn’t keep up with the expense. To be honest, it’s a tough gig running a restaurant.” There will be a lot of memories that will be cherished by Mortenson and many of the customers. “We got to know them and know about their families. I saw kids grow up there. People came in every week. We all knew the regulars, we knew their orders,” said Mortenson.
Jerry Montgomery was one of those regulars who went there every week since the 70s. “The family that ran it was just some of the greatest people I’ve ever met,” said Montgomery. “It became a hangout spot for me. It was a big part of my life.” He said it was more than a restaurant. “Generations of alumni have gone there and it’ll be a sad day when they all learn that it’s gone.”
While the brick and mortar store is closing, Mortenson said he would be willing to partner with someone to possible open a food truck or maybe open the restaurant sometime in the future.