CHAMPAIGN — As of next Thursday, there's a need to fear: Wonderdogs won't be here.
Jay Feiz is retiring as proprietor of the independent hot dog shop in Campustown after 27 years. Wonderdogs' last day of business will be Wednesday.
Feiz said a combination of factors influenced his decision to close. A rent increase is likely when his lease at 605 S. Wright St., C, comes up next year; his equipment is getting old; and restaurant competition in Campustown is stiffer than ever.
"When I started in 1986, there were a handful of restaurants," Feiz said. Now there are multiple sub shops, plus an array of Mexican, Chinese and Korean restaurants.
Plus, "I'm going to be 65, and I've been doing this for 27 years," Feiz said. It's not easy working 12 hours a day six days a week.
"It's time for me to call it quits," he said.
Feiz said the hardest part of closing is telling longtime customers, some of whom came in as kids and have since married and have kids of their own.
"They're all upset," he said.
Since learning of the impending closure, some customers have come in every day for meals. Others have stopped by to wish him luck.
Feiz said he doesn't intend to stop working once he closes down the place. His son is entering college this year, and his daughter is in high school.
He said he'd like to get a job in a field that doesn't involve food "unless I have to."
Feiz came to the U.S. from his home country, Iran, in 1973 and studied textile engineering. He then got a master's degree in industrial engineering and worked for Burlington Industries.
Later, he came to Champaign-Urbana, where his niece lived, and bought Wonderdogs in 1986. At that time, the restaurant was located on South Sixth Street.
It has moved twice since then and has been at its current location since 2000.
Last year, Wonderdogs was named to the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame, an honor given to longtime independent hot dog shops that serve the Vienna Beef brand.
All the inductees have been in business at least 20 years and some as long as 50 years.
Feiz said he welcomes comments from customers on Wonderdogs' Facebook page. Two commenters who learned Friday of the scheduled closing lamented its loss, saying it served "the best cheeseburger I ever had on campus" and the "best cheeseburger of my life." A third declared, "Best hotdogs EVER!"