Zorba’s Restaurant reopens for business

A little over a year after the March 23, 2011, fire on Green Street, Zorba’s owner Matt Mortenson reopened the gyro stand that has been serving campus since 1973.

“It’s been a long and winding road, as the Beatles would say,” Mortenson said.

Thursday’s customers were greeted by an all new layout. The kitchen is now on the southwest corner of the restaurant, which means the larger seating area is now off to the left.

Additionally, a new wheelchair ramp leads customers from the door to the counter, where they will pass new customized lighting fixtures.

Mortenson’s Block I-shaped collage of Illini sports clippings still stands, as it was salvaged from the fire along with two campus-themed murals, which are now hung on the eastern wall.

The menu, however, has not changed.

“It’s been a very hectic last couple of weeks, realizing all the things you forgot and waking up a couple times a night to write them down,” Mortenson said.

Mortenson said there was never a time when he considered not rebuilding Zorba’s, but it involved a long process of dealing with insurance companies and the landlord to make sure the building was up to code. For example, the basement ceiling was not high enough at first, so he had to have the floor dug deeper.

The community has been very encouraging every step of the way, Mortenson said.

“Everyone on Facebook was posting and saying they’ve got to get in line a month in advance,” Mortenson said.

One customer, Jerry Montgomery, said he’s been coming to Zorba’s for lunch since 1974, and is thrilled to have it back. While it was closed, he went to other restaurants in the area, which he enjoyed.

“But it wasn’t Zorba’s,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery ordered the chili, which he said was “wonderful as ever,” and convenient because it is served year-round. He plans to resume eating lunch at Zorba’s about four times per week.

Local jazz bands are already contacting Mortenson about performing at Zorba’s once again. As a result of the new layout, live acts will now be able to perform in the large customer area by the window facing Green Street.

Michael Smith, junior in LAS, said he mostly comes to Zorba’s for Jazz Nights on Thursdays.

“It’s good to have places like this back,” Smith said.