Students at UCI will soon have to turn elsewhere for a bite of Mediterranean food between classes, as Kochee Kabob’s lease for the upcoming year has not been renewed. Per owner AJ Satori, the restaurant’s last day is set for December 31st.
Tucked within the southwest corner of University Town Center, Kochee Kabob first opened in 2004, and has persisted as one of the property’s few remaining non-franchised eateries in light of recent developments. The restaurant’s removal comes amidst an influx of popular eateries such as Slapfish, Mendocino Farms, and Eureka! springing up in UTC within the past two years.
“Before, [UTC] is not like now,” said Satori, 50. “That time nobody told me to leave, cause the center was bad, business was bad.
“So the center has gotten better, so now they don’t want to give me a lease, they’re not going to renew it. I don’t know what the reason is exactly.”
Satori states that the decision comes in spite of the fact that his restaurant has seen a 40-50% increase in business within the past two years.
When the restaurant first opened in 2004, Satori was given a five-year lease, and has signed a one-year renewal in each subsequent year following the expiration of the five-year option with the Irvine Company, the private real estate company that owns UTC.
Typically, Satori is informed whether or not his lease will be renewed three months before it expires. Satori states that he only learned that his lease would not be renewed approximately two months ago, after repeatedly calling company offices to ask why he had yet to receive any notification about the status of his lease.
According to Satori, it was not until last week that he had received a formal letter from the Irvine Company.
The Irvine Company did not respond to requests for comment.
This recent chain of events comes as a shock to Satori, who says that all his prior interactions with members of the Irvine Company had been pleasant.
“They’re all so nice, they support me, they’re good people,” said Satori. “But I got shocked, what happened to me? They need to help me, I need their support because I spent 11 years in this center.
“As soon as I got this message it’s kind of [shocking] for me to spend 11 years for nothing, just nothing.”
With such short-term notice, Satori is unable to find a new location for his restaurant, and is additionally worried about being able to pay off next month’s mortgage without a steady income from the restaurant.
Satori estimates that it would take at least five to six months to establish and open a new location.
Regardless of his situation, Satori harbors no ill-will towards the Irvine Company, and is instead more concerned on making ends meet for his family.
“I’m just very worried about myself and my family, [because] I care about my kids,” said Satori. “My daughter say, ‘Daddy, What happen?’ You used to take me over there and help you with family business, is this the end?
“This is hard, especially for me. It should one day be okay, where everything is okay, but not soon, not right now.”