Less than a week removed from finals, students at the University of California, Irvine have dedicated their efforts towards taking on an equally formidable foe: The Irvine Company.
After learning of the imminent removal of local Mediterranean eatery Kochee Kabob from University Town Center by the end of the year, students have launched a petition on change.org requesting the private real estate company renew the restaurant’s lease for a minimum of five years.
“Over the past 12 (years, Kochee Kabob has become a University Town Center staple and a vital part of the greater Irvine community. This family-owned business has brought an authentic, unparalleled character to UTC since it’s opening in 2004. Throughout this time, Kochee Kabob has gathered the loyal support of students, alumni, and staff of UC Irvine, as well as Irvine residents from neighboring communities. Among these customers, an impressive amount of support comes from the Muslim students, faculty, and staff of UC Irvine, who turn to Kochee Kabob as one of the few providers of halal food options within reasonable distance from campus,” the petition reads.
Should Kochee Kabob be removed, Le Diplomate Café, Gen Grill, and Stax Cookie will be the only three remaining small-businesses that have yet to be replaced by a corporately owned restaurant. A few years ago, efforts were made to remove Le Diplomate Café, but through a success petitioning campaign the sandwich eatery was able to maintain its location in UTC.
According to Huda Herwees, the fourth-year psychological behavior major who started the petition, the loss of Kochee Kabob would be a significant one for the Muslim community within UCI. For students without cars, Kochee Kabob is one of the most viable options for eating halal food due to its close proximity to campus.
Due to its proximity by UCI, the restaurant provides a halal option for students without cars.
“Losing Kochee Kabob as one of the few halal options near campus is upsetting as I, as many other Muslims students, have grown accustomed to the accessibility and affordability that the restaurant provided. Having Kochee Kabob at UTC has always made UTC feel more inclusive and welcoming as I felt my demographic was being represented,” said Herwees. “Kochee Kabob has been a part of the Muslim student experience for many years and we’ve always turned to Kochee Kabob for a warm meal made by a kind, familiar soul.
“[The owner] is like an uncle to many of us and it would be hard to see him and his restaurant go after so many years of his community involvement. […] The overwhelming support that people have expressed really goes to show how deeply ingrained Kochee Kabob has become into our campus community.”
Parshan Khosravi, president of Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI), is also troubled by this recent development.
“Kochee Kabob is more than a restaurant. It represents the friendly local business that has become a part of our campus culture and tradition, and a host for many of our fellow Anteaters who eat halal food,” said Khosravi. “The decision of UTC to remove Kochee Kabob is yet another example of UTC’s growing push for local businesses to be replaced with expensive, corporate businesses that have more money and power, at the cost of removing any elements of our campus-favorite local food. That is what makes this decision so concerning to me.”
The decision to not renew Kochee Kabob’s lease comes despite the fact that revenue for the restaurant has increased 40-50% in the past two years.
“It is concerning to know that specifically Kochee Kabob has had a rise in customers and income, as well as experiencing a growth in popularity within UCI, and yet is being forced to move out of UTC,” added Khosravi. “There is a reason why UTC is called “University Town Center”, and to me it is because it must represent what its biggest customers, the university students, want, and at this point, all evidence point to one unifying fact, that we want Kochee Kabob to stay.”
Supporters of the petition are also encouraged to contact representatives of the Irvine Company to voice their support for the restaurant, and to draw attention to their cause through social media with the hashtag: #SaveKocheeKabob. At the time of writing, the petition has garnered over 512 signatures since first being released on the evening of December 15.
Per the petition, the last day that Kochee Kabob will be open is tentatively set for December 28th.
The petition can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/the-irvine-company-renew-kochee-kabob-s-retail-lease