Right around the corner and across the bridge lies the University Town Center. There you will find under construction Chick-fil-A, the new fast food restaurant chain that is to replace Lee’s Sandwiches in Irvine since its closure on Sept. 27.
For the past eight years, Lee’s Sandwiches has offered signature sweetened condensed iced coffees and Vietnamese-style sandwiches and baguettes.
Vi Tran, an employee at Lee’s Sandwiches Headquarters in San Jose, issued a statement of the store’s permanent closure.
“We express deep regret for permanently closing our Irvine store after many years of serving our valued customers. As a result, we are currently scouting the Irvine area for our next Lee’s store,” Tran said.
Brittany Dunn, a third-year UCI student, gave a student perspective on the business’ closure.
“Lee’s has been here for a long time, and I’m sure that it had a significant base of people that came all the time. There are great food options here. I do appreciate the ambiance with other students being here and I can come and do my work here. I think there should be a vote on it,” Dunn said.
Literary journalism instructor Amy DePaul has been familiar with the store for at least five years.
“I like the atmosphere with the screen and they call out the numbers. It’s relaxing, and it’s affordable. I felt like I was getting fresh, affordable food. It’s a little more variety and reflects the culture that is drowned out here in Orange Country,” DePaul said.
Regine Ossorio, a senior who had a family member work at Lee’s in San Bernardino, stresses the importance of maintaining smaller business and the variety of healthy food choices she says is vital for the Irvine community.
“Businesses should stay if they can afford the rent, but at the same time they should limit the monopoly of big corporations taking over.”
“I don’t mind the fact that a big business corporation drove out a small business, but I feel like this type of food chain is unhealthier and that is what I’m more concerned about,” Ossorio said.
For others, the transition to chicken sandwiches is satisfactory.
“I’ve heard they are Vietnamese-style sandwiches so I’m not a huge fan of that. With Chick-fil-A, I think it’s a step up,” Joe Grippaldi, Snoflakez manager and UCI alumnus, said.
Of the recent changes that have taken place within the past year, Grippaldi is eager to see more variety of food chains at the University Center.
Similarly, Steelhead Brewing Co. located in Irvine will also end their lease with the Irvine Co.
A former manager at the Steelhead Brewing Co. says they are “absolutely” in the process of closing down as a result of the increase in property taxes.
Opened since 1995 with its third location in Irvine, the brewery offers a selection of quality beers and buffet-style options, and will close by the end of October.
Several other locations are available in northern California are Burlingame and Eugene, Ore.
Meanwhile, other small businesses in UTC including Le Diplomate will stay open. Manager Paul Heng stated that he did not see Lee’s or Chick-fil-A as competition.
“Because of inflation,” Heng says, he is not concerned of the increase in property taxes. As for the rest of the year, Heng feels satisfactory that Le Diplomate will remain in business for the time being. “For now,” Heng said.
Within the year, Tender Greens, a restaurant-based style dining that offers healthy, home-grown produce will replace Britta’s Café. In addition, Chipotle will open for business across from Chick-fil-A, known for the classic make-your-own burritos and bowls.
As the year transitions to a selection of different food varieties in Irvine, Irvine Company owner of the UTC property and much else in Irvine, declined to discuss the controversy over Lee’s closure.
Irvine Company was not responsive to our requests for comment.