Due to unexpected building closures and the COVID-19 pandemic, empty buildings are replacing must-sees at the once bustling and beloved Tuscaloosa restaurant. Restaurant owners at Sitar Indian Cuisine, Ichiban Japanese Grill & Sushi, Ruan Thai and The Levee are struggling to sort out their futures.
Sitar Indian Cuisine and Ichiban Japanese Grill & Sushi have stood side by side on 15th Street for over a decade, but both closed in March. after receiving unexpected 30-day move notices.
Both restaurants had been staples of the Tuscaloosa community for over 13 years, gaining popularity with locals for their unique cuisine. However, their popularity with the community could not prevent their recent closings.
Japanese grill and sushi Ichiban
The owner of Ichiban’s younger brother, Hiu Yi Chow, created a GoFundMe for the company on February 20, explaining how her sister and husband received 30 days’ notice to move on February 19 without warning.
âAs no notice was given, there was [sic] no preparation was made for the move. They don’t know how long they will be away and how much money will be needed for [sic] the new location, âthe post said.
Under Alabama Law, âThe landlord or tenant may terminate a monthly tenancy by giving written notice to the other at least 30 days before the periodic tenancy date specified in the notice.
Although the situation is legal, many have sympathized with the owners and raised thousands of dollars to help Ichiban reopen. As of May 22, 132 backers have donated $ 6,083.
Ichiban owner HiuTung Chow said she was surprised at the number of people helped. On March 19, when they last opened their doors, she thanked customers for their love and support in a post on Ichiban’s Facebook page.
âYou are all more than my clients,â Chow said in her post. “You are all like my family and my friend [sic]! I enjoyed having conversations with all of you. I might not be able to remember your name, but I do remember the faces and always try to remember what you eat until you change.
While the unexpected closure of the restaurant was difficult for Chow and her family, she said she was excited to reopen in a new location.
Indian Cuisine Sitar
The owners of Sitar sent a gratitude message to the town of Tuscaloosa about the restaurant Facebook page the day before their doors close on March 19.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce that Sitar Indian Cuisine will close the doors of our original location on March 20,” the post said. “We have made so many amazing memories here with all of you since we opened our doors in 2004.”
Despite the news, the post remained optimistic.
âWe are delighted to announce that we will be moving to a new location in the very near future! Said the post. âOur new location will be a new start for Sitar.
The optimism of both restaurants for the future seemed to be paying off. Sitar and Ichiban found new locations for their businesses in April.
The owners of Sitar announced on Facebook that they have found a new location on 15th Street and will reopen in early June. Ichiban announced its new location in a building on University Boulevard next to Steel City Pops.
Brian Oliu, UA Senior Instructor in the English Department, has lived in Tuscaloosa since 2005 and frequently visits Sitar, Ichiban and Ruan Thai.
While Oliu is thrilled that Sitar and Ichiban are reopening to new locations, he said it was upsetting to see their old locations turn into business chains or new developments.
The owners of Ichiban and Sitar have learned that the former owner of the complex at the corner of 15th Street and Hackberry Lane had sold the property and that the entire complex is now being demolished to build a station. -service.
So far, there has been no public confirmation of the sale of the property or the construction of a gas station, but commercial property developer Capital Growth Buchalter (CGB) lists the complex as one of its redevelopment projects on its website.
âCGB acquired Bama Bowl and the surrounding center in 2013 because of its proximity to the University of Alabama and the intrinsic value of the underlying land,â the CGB website said.
CGB purchased the property with “the intention of owning and optimizing cash flow”, but “the master plan for the valuable site is still evolving”. The space is screened for the best possible use, including residential, hotel and commercial development.
However, the website features an outdated photo of the complex and does not mention current news on the property, so it is not clear whether CGB is the current owner of the land.
There are at least ten gas stations within two miles of the resort.
âIt’s very upsetting for me to think about the state of the Strip,â said Oliu. “I think what’s frustrating for me, especially as a person who’s lived here for a long time, is that I have friends who come back to visit meâ¦ and every time they come back, they’re like:” Oh, this place has changed completely. ‘”
With the construction of new apartment complexes and restaurant chains around the AU campus, the old buildings in the city are being demolished.
On the Strip, a Taco Bell replaces China Master, making it the fourth Taco Bell in the Tuscaloosa region.
Tuscaloosa’s third Whataburger and the first Meditteranean Sandwich Company arrive on the Strip to “improve the mix of businesses on University Boulevard” and “add to the healthy eating options available to students, employees and visitors to the area who are close to campus â.
Some people are unhappy with the ongoing commercialization in the area, especially on the Strip, University Boulevard, and 15th Street.
“A lot of times [people] come to Tuscaloosa, and they don’t come to Whataburger, âOliu said. “They want to go to places they used to go when they were younger or when they were in college.”
For Oliu’s wedding, he and his wife made a list of their favorite restaurants for their guests to try while in Tuscaloosa. When he recently reviewed the list, he said most sites have closed and have not reopened.
âThis is basically where the memories are made,â Oliu said. âI mean the food is good, the businesses are great, they have good service, but I think it’s more about knowing they’re in the community. They are attached to the community. They are part of the community.
Ichiban and Sitar plan to reopen in new locations as soon as possible. For other local restaurants that have been forced to close, the future is uncertain.
Alp Yeager opened Ruan Thai, the area’s first Thai restaurant, in the 1990s when she came to Tuscaloosa for her graduate studies. It was originally called Siam House.
Despite Ruan Thai’s success, the restaurant announced on February 16 that it would close its doors after months of the COVID-19 pandemic strained the business.
Leona Yeager, daughter of Alp Yeager and a recent AU alumnus, said Ruan Thai has tried to keep her business going with take out orders only.
Although companies were allowed to open their dining halls on May 11, 2020, Leona Yeager said her family and Ruan Thai employees were uncomfortable with their dining hall reopening.
Ruan Thai struggled to survive on takeout orders, which resulted in his own set of problems. Homeowners have faced the new costs of containers and take-out supplies for improved cleaning and safety measures without charging more.
After months of trying to stay afloat on takeout orders, Alp Yeager decided to shut down Ruan Thai. Leona Yeager said the rental lease was due to end and her family decided not to renew it.
Leona Yeager said it was not easy for her mother to run the restaurant. She was an immigrant who came to the United States for school. She said her mother started a business while “going through the hardships of being a person of color in America,” learning English and navigating a new country.
Despite the difficulties associated with closing their restaurant, Leona Yeager said she will not yet count the Yeager family out of the game.
While they don’t know what the future holds, it’s possible that Ruan Thai or another restaurant will make a comeback.
Levee Bar & Grill
That kind of resilience has paid off for another local restaurateur who faced similar circumstances last year.
The Levee Bar & Grill, which has often been among the best restaurants in Tuscaloosa, announced on May 11, 2020 that it was definitively closed.
Gary McGee, owner of The Levee, said big parties and dining are a big part of the restaurant’s income. He said he knew The Levee couldn’t survive on takeout alone.
While closing the Levee was a tough decision, McGee has never ceased to love the restaurant industry. He started working on his new restaurant business soon after and opened Urban Bar and Kitchen in downtown Tuscaloosa on January 18.
From conceptualizing his restaurants to visiting his employees and customers, McGee said he was excited to share Urban Bar and Kitchen with the Tuscaloosa community.
Although Tuscaloosa is constantly evolving, iconic restaurants are pushing back the hardships change has brought them. Tuscaloosa restaurant owners prove that with passion and determination, they can and will rebuild.