Buttitta's restaurant closes
CHAMPAIGN — A lack of business has forced the family-owned Italian restaurant Buttitta's to shutter its doors about a year and a half after it opened.
The last day for Buttitta's Famiglia Restaurante, 1201 S. Neil St., C, was Sunday.
"Our lease is over. We just couldn't keep up with the enormous overhead," said Vicky Buttitta, who owned the restaurant with her husband, John Buttitta.
The couple invested almost $1 million in the business, she estimated.
John Buttitta's father, Dom Buttitta, founded Dom's Patio Villa, a restaurant that operated for about 40 years in Champaign. Dom's, 301 S. Locust St., closed at the end of 2007 after the death of Betty Buttitta, Dom's wife. At the time, John and Vicky said they were ready for a fresh start and announced they would open a new restaurant, with some old favorites from Dom's and new dishes in a larger, more upscale location.
The Buttittas oversaw a major renovation of the building that was once home to Jillian's, a bar and pool hall. Buttitta's, which could seat over 250 people, featured a pizza kitchen, lounge area with piano, murals on the walls, and a bar. It opened in early 2010.
"There was not enough business to stay open. I guess people would rather support the chain restaurants where their money goes out of town," Buttitta said. "I thought we had more of a relationship with people, but I guess we didn't," she said.
Among the challenges they faced: Vicky Buttitta fell ill with lung cancer and was unable to work for a while. It also took some time to train employees and for them to feel comfortable with new kitchen equipment, she said.
Buttitta is now in remission and said she and John were able to develop a good crew of employees.
"A lot of steady customers came back," she said.
They sought out investors, but that did not come about, she said.
The restaurant employed 52 people.
"There are 52 people scrambling for jobs now," she said. "Our employees are very loyal, great people."
Managers are calling customers who reserved rooms in the restaurant for private dining events and referring them elsewhere.
"We value the customers that did support us. For us, they became more than customers, she said.
Buttitta said she and her husband have "no clue" what they will do next. "It's a scary proposition," she said.
They live in Champaign and plan to stay here because their family is here.