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.