It's Your Business: Lessaris family bringing pizza franchise to town
A family with a long history in the restaurant business could be bringing a new pizza franchise to town next year.
Dr. Tom Lessaris has gotten rights to develop Brixx Wood Fired Pizza locations in the Champaign and Indianapolis areas.
Lessaris, a physician in Charlotte, N.C., whose roots are in the Champaign-Urbana area, said he has identified a good location for Brixx in Champaign, but hasn't found a spot in Indianapolis yet.
He said he's not ready to disclose the Champaign site, but hopes it will be up and running by the end of 2014.
Brixx has 21 restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. The chain serves not only pizza and beer, but also salads, sandwiches, pasta, appetizers and desserts.
"It's a relaxed atmosphere, with 24 craft beers on tap," Lessaris said.
Lessaris, whose medical specialties are internal medicine and pediatrics, said he went to medical school at Southern Illinois University at Springfield, served a residency and moved to Charlotte in 2000.
But he remains in close contact with Champaign-Urbana.
"I try to get back there at least every six or eight weeks," he said. "I'm hoping this brings me home for good."
Lessaris said his grandfather, Thomas Lessaris, operated the Elite Sweet Shop confectionery in downtown Champaign, beginning in the 1920s. Thomas' sons — John, George and Peter — all worked in the store and branched out. They eventually operated 11 Top Boy drive-ins, including one on North Prospect Avenue in Champaign and another on West Springfield Avenue in Champaign.
Later, they opened the Elite Diner in Urbana, which made use of the former Chuck Wagon restaurant building.
Lessaris said Dr. Tom Scaggs of Champaign is also part of the local Brixx franchise group.
Sitara coming to Urbana
Not quite so far out in the future is the opening of Sitara Indian Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Urbana.
Bobby Gomes, one of the owners of Sitara, said he hopes to open the restaurant at 114 S. Race St., U, sometime in August. The location is the former home of The Embassy tavern, Red Star Liquors and Black Rock Pizza.
Gomes, a native of Mumbai, India, will open the restaurant with Sahil Thapa, originally from Himachal, India, and Hari Pratap Ghimire. a native of Nepal. All have experience in the restaurant business, but this is their first time as owners.
Gomes said they plan to serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. They'll specialize in the cuisine of north India, serving dishes such as butter chicken, tandoori chicken, chicken curry and the vegetarian dish, palak paneer.
They also plan to serve Indian beers and wine as well as some domestic beers.
"We're focusing on giving Urbana something new, something they haven't had in so many years," he said.
His wife, Holli Finley Gomes, said Sitara will offer delivery, carry-out and catering, as well as dine-in service.
Bobby Gomes said he plans to leave the red star sign outside — a remnant from Red Star Liquor days. The reason? "Sitara" is a Hindi word meaning "star," he said.
No puffing allowed
The Ramada at 902 W. Killarney St., U, has become a 100 percent smoke-free hotel.
Manager Kari Doxey chose to make the hotel smoke-free a few weeks ago after meeting with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District about the possibility, according to a district release.
Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227 or 800-252-3346; by email at email@example.com; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.