Prairie Fire restaurant closes

Prairie Fire restaurant closes

CHAMPAIGN — Prairie Fire didn't sweep the Champaign restaurant scene the way Dave Block hoped it would, but the veteran restaurateur said he wouldn't change a thing if he could do it over.

The restaurant on the main floor of Trade Centre South closed at the end of business Sunday. Chalkboards reading "thank you" and "we are closed" alerted would-be patrons Monday that they'd have to go elsewhere.

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"We closed because we didn't have enough business to support the operation," said Block, one of the investors in the business.

An auction of the restaurant equipment will be held May 7, and the space is expected to be vacated by mid-May, he said.

Prairie Fire opened Sept. 14, 2012, and featured a diversified menu including prime rib, seafood and a salad bar.

"We want to thank all our customers who supported us the past couple years, and we're sorry we couldn't keep it open," Block said.

"It all should have fit in well with central Illinois because there's nothing but a bunch of casual dining restaurants and maybe one upscale restaurant here," he said.

"We wanted to offer a new avenue where people could have a nice dining experience on their night out. It was different from Applebee's, Chili's, Friday's — home-cooked food at a very competitive price for Champaign-Urbana," he said.

Block said Prairie Fire had encouraging success with a Sunday buffet brunch it introduced about eight weeks ago.

"If we had days like Sunday every day, we'd still be open," he said. "But you will not be a success if your biggest day of the week is Sunday."

Prairie Fire featured an outdoor patio as well as an indoor bar, The Spin Zone.

Block said he could walk away with his head "held high," given the quality of food and level of customer service that Prairie Fire offered. But he said he has no plans to open another restaurant.

"No more ventures for me," he said.

Block would not say how many people Prairie Fire employed at the end. Before it opened, he said it was expected to have a minimum of 40 employees.

Several key people at Prairie Fire were once involved in TGI Friday's, which occupied the same space for 20 years before closing in 2012.

Another TGI Friday's, operated by a different franchisee, has since opened at 103 W. Marketview Drive, C.

Wolfram Research is the principal tenant of the Trade Centre South building, located near the southwest corner of Kirby Avenue and Neil Street. The Hawthorn Suites hotel is located just to the south of the building.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Restaurants

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Sidney61877 wrote on April 08, 2014 at 10:04 am

I will agree with Mr. Block about the quality of food, but the level of customer service was pathetic.  If he is looking for a specific reason why Prairie Fire was not successful, the discussion can begin and end with customer service. 

yeahokay wrote on April 08, 2014 at 10:04 am

Block said he could walk away with his head "held high," given the quality of food and level of customer service that Prairie Fire offered. But he said he has no plans to open another restaurant.


So mediocre food and poor service are reasons to hold your head high? 

Steve Nesbitt wrote on April 08, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Wow, the guy just lost his business he was obviously proud of and you're going to make comments like this?  He's probably got a dog you can kick too...

Sidney61877 wrote on April 08, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Have you read the comments on WCIA's Facebook page about the restaurant closing?  Just about EVERY comment makes mention of the poor service.  Mr. Block wouldn't have had to worry about closing his business that "he was obviously proud of" if he would have taken care of his clientele.  I thought the quality of the food, and also the prices, were very good.  The service .. not so much. 

thesimpleman wrote on April 08, 2014 at 12:04 pm

AS you two are so quick in bashing someone here is a thought.You open a resturant of your own and then come talk somemore ok.

This man had a dream he followed it.It is hard to maintian the leval of service and quality of food as a small operater.

Good luck in your future


jmaupi796 wrote on April 08, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Dear Mr Block,

I just purchased a $50 gift card less than 2 weeks ago and the friend I was repaying for a favor did not use it yet.  How can I get a refund?  Please make it right by responding.  Thank you, Janet

Phae wrote on April 08, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Yes, it is only right that you refund the money we paid for the gift cards!  I find it hard to believe that you just woke up Monday morning and decided to close!  This was in the works when we bought our gift cards.



emt29 wrote on April 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Unfortunately, MANY restaurants in C-U have sold gift certificates up until the day they closed & smiled while they took patrons' money, knowing the gift certificates could never be redeemed.  I think it's an awful practice.  My father received hundreds of dollars in gift certificates to an upscale restarant in Urbana a couple of years ago as retirement gifts  The restaurant closed that week.  Your own business failing is no reason to make an individual take a financal hit!

Phae wrote on April 08, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Would be nice if Mr. Block had decided to stop selling gift certificates!  We bought a gift certificate for our parents' anniversary just a week ago.  They were going to use it yesterday, and found that the restaurant had closed!  Now we (our parents) are out the $60 we paid for it.

danrice56 wrote on April 08, 2014 at 4:04 pm

By the name, I was expecting something more hip and upscale. The buffet was more in line with Apple Dumplin. Decent food, but I was hoping for fare a bit more sophisticated.

jimsch wrote on April 08, 2014 at 5:04 pm

The people were always nice to us, We gained a few friends on the wait staff and we always were glad to see them.  Service wasn't all that bad when the servers were your friends.  The part that turned us away was the recent increase in the Sunday prices.  It was totally out of our price range.  And we have a $35 gift card that is now useless too.

thorx wrote on April 09, 2014 at 12:04 am

I found the waitstaff and bartenders to be very friendly and accommodating.  The food was well above average and I prefer to support local businesses so I am sorry to see the place close.

Rather than dwell on the past, anyone have any suggestions for a restaurant that could survive there?  How about a wood-fire pizza place that also had top quality salads, sandwiches, 1/4, 1/2, or whole chickens and ribs.  Or split the space up between Flat Top Grill and a Chipotle.