Fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant opening in Illini Union

Fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant opening in Illini Union

URBANA — A fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant is opening Thursday in the basement of the Illini Union.

Garbanzo will be taking over KoFusion's space in the cafeteria area next to Sbarro and Wendy's.

"This is long overdue for this market," said franchisee Britton Wiedemann. "When you see how diverse and international this campus is, this feeds right into what the campus is craving."

He also noted that it will be one of the few places on campus with halal certification, meaning its food will meet Islamic dietary laws.

"We make almost everything from scratch every day. The pitas, the sauces," Wiedemann said. "We marinate our chicken for 24 hours."

Customers will build their dish as they go, like at Chipotle or Qdoba.

The Illini Union location will feature a stand-alone bakery area where customers can see the pita bread being made.

Wiedemann said he and Tom Weigand, who also own the Noodles & Company on Green Street, were approached by Garbanzo to open the location in Champaign-Urbana.

"We have been in this segment for quite some time and have had the good fortune to know the right people," Wiedemann said.

In surveys, students have been asking for a Mediterranean option, said Lori Holmes, manager of vendor contracts for the Illini Union.

"Annually, the Illini Union utilizes a campus-wide survey of the student body to assist with identifying, evaluating and contracting with popular concepts or vendors," she said in an email. "The surveys from the past two years have ranked Mediterranean as one of the most desired non-represented concepts for the Illini Union food court."

This marks the first expansion to Illinois for the Colorado-based chain, which was founded in 2008.

As of Thursday, it will have 26 locations, most of which are in Colorado, with others at college campuses and airports around the country.

In a news release, CEO James Park said the expansion stems from "a definite shift from Mexican to Mediterranean, and a transition from sandwiches to shawarmas."