Zorba’s rises from the ashes of the Green Street fire, will reopen soon

Zorba’s Restaurant on Green Street may be making a comeback this winter.

The March 23 fire that destroyed Champaign buildings, such as Zorba’s, Mia Za’s Cafe and Pitaya, has not stopped Zorba’s from rebuilding again.

Rhiannon Mortenson, general manager at Zorba’s, said “we’re going to try” reopening the restaurant on campus. She said when the fire happened, the building was condemned, meaning that it was even unsafe for firefighters to go in and put out the fire.

Mortenson said the plan is to open in November or December of this year “because the rebuild is taking a while.”

Kirsten O’Neal, Champaign resident, said the reopening of Zorba’s would be a good idea.

“I think it would be great. I wish all of them (the businesses affected by the fire) would reopen,” she said.

However, the construction of the building is costing a pretty penny for Zorba’s.

“It’s really expensive,” Mortenson said. “I’m excited. I’m anxious right now because it’s costing so much.”

O’Neal said the construction on Green Street is “a pain in the neck” because it is difficult navigating around in a car. She said she is looking forward to the time when all of the construction is finished.

“It will be really good when all the streets and sidewalks are nice and repaved,” she added.

Chris Copeland, Champaign resident, also said the construction on the campus’s main street is a “pain,” but he said he tries to bike whenever he can to avoid the mess of construction.

Mortenson said while gyros were the restaurant’s “claim to fame,” it also served salads, beer and wine. She added that her favorite dish on the menu was a half-and-half lamb and chicken gyros.

Copeland said it has been a long time since he last went to Zorba’s, but the gyro is his particular favorite item on the menu.

“I think it’s good to have local businesses on campus anytime rather than chains,” he said.

University students will not have to adjust to a new Zorba’s because the menu does not seem to be changing.

“We’re probably going to keep (the menu) pretty similar to what it was,” Mortenson said.

She said they are meeting with public health and city officials to make sure everything is up to code.

“We’re dealing with that first,” she said. “Everything will be brand new.”

While Mortenson said she wants to use the space of the restaurant in a better and effective manner. She also expects most of the student staff to return working at Zorba’s.

Mortenson said about 12 to 20 people will be working at Zorba’s, and the staff has a lot of fun. The staff is made up entirely by students except for family members working at the restaurant, she said.

“We try to make it a fun work environment,” Mortenson added.