CHAMPAIGN — In the battle for the taste buds of downtown Champaign restaurant-goers, Irish has won out over Mongolian.
Dublin O'Neil's, at 301 N. Neil St., C, plans to expand into the 301 Mongolia space immediately to the north, said Josh Huddleston, executive chef and operating manager for both restaurants.
The Mongolian grill will continue to serve patrons this week, with Sunday its last scheduled day of business, Huddleston said.
Employees of 301 Mongolia have been offered positions at Dublin O'Neil's, and Huddleston said he expects to take on all who are interested.
Huddleston said the decision to go the Irish route came because Dublin O'Neil's was "bursting at the seams."
The Mongolian grill attracted an "amazing" lunchtime following, while the Irish pub drew in "a nice dinner and late-night crowd," Huddleston said.
But overall, Dublin O'Neil's was "able to produce more business at a faster pace," he added.
The Irish pub served more liquor, Huddleston said, noting that Dublin O'Neil's business was 65 percent food, 35 percent liquor, while 301 Mongolia's was 80 percent food, 20 percent liquor.
Both establishments are owned by Amit and Ritika Chopra and have been operating on the ground floor of the M2 on Neil building since the fall of 2011.
Amit Chopra said it's conceivable that he may reopen 301 Mongolia at another location in the future.
"It's a great concept, the business did well, and it's a concept I believe in," he said.
But Dublin O'Neil's business was growing and needed to expand, and "the best decision for the restaurant and the operation as a whole" was to expand into the 301 Mongolia space, he said.
Having more space will allow Dublin O'Neil's to move from a "pub-bar" to a "pub-restaurant" and one that is "chef-inspired," he said.
Huddleston said he is not projecting a date for when the expansion will occur, but hopes to have a better idea in three weeks.
He said he does expect to add a private dining room in the northeast corner of the 301 Mongolia space.
The wall between the two restaurants won't come down, Huddleston said, because he wants to "preserve the intimacy of the Irish pub."
Dublin O'Neil's can accommodate 65 patrons, while 301 Mongolia can handle 98. Once both spaces are used, the pub should be able to serve about 160, he said.
Huddleston said he expects to increase the number of booths on the Mongolian side of the wall, once that area becomes part of the pub.
He said he also plans to expand Dublin O'Neil's menu in 30 to 45 days, adding specialties such as Scotch eggs.
Special whiskey dinners and beer dinners are also being planned, he said.
Huddleston said he also hopes to "lighten up" Dublin O'Neil's lunch menu.