Despite student protests, Kochee Kabob, a popular Mediterranean restaurant located within University Town Center, closed the day before New Year’s Eve after 11 years of serving the Irvine community.
Kochee Kabob’s closing is a result of the Irvine Company’s decision to not renew its lease for the upcoming year.
Owner AJ Satori noted that the decision came despite the restaurant experiencing a boom 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.”
The restaurant was a popular favorite among the Muslim student community as it was one of the only options for halal food in UTC.
After learning the popular eatery’s pending removing, Huda Herwees, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major at UCI, started a petition on change.org urging the Irvine Company to reconsider.
“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 read.
The petition succeeded in gathering 529 signatures before the restaurant’s closing.
“Losing Kochee Kabob as one of the few halal options near campus is upsetting as I, as many other Muslim students, have grown accustomed to the accessibility and affordability that the restaurant provided,” said Herwees. “Having Kochee Kabob at UTC has always made UTC feel more inclusive and welcoming as I felt my demographic was being represented”.
“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.”
Kochee Kabob was one of the last few remaining family-owned restaurants situated in UTC. In the past two years, a flood of popular chain eateries such as Slapfish, Mendocino Farms, and Eureka! have opened in the plaza.
“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,” said Parshan Khosravi, ASUCI president.
Satori was not seeking for a full renewal of his lease, but rather a six-month extension so that he would have ample time to find and open in a new location. According to Satori, he first learned of the Irvine Company’s decision in October, and didn’t receive a formal notice from the real estate company until early December.
An Irvine Company representative stated a retail company will replace Kochee Kabob, with constructing beginning in January.
Currently, Le Diplomate Café, Gen Grill, and Stax Cookie Bar are the only remaining small business restaurants in UTC.