CHAMPAIGN — The popular Buca di Beppo chain plans to open a restaurant at Champaign's Market Place Mall in the late summer, mall owner General Growth Properties announced Tuesday.
The restaurant will occupy about 5,000 square feet near the food court in the former Pasta House space, said mall general manager Dennis Robertson.
The restaurant — which provides casual, sit-down Italian dining — will also open at nine other General Growth Properties malls about the same time.
Buca di Beppo — a concept conceived by University of Illinois alumnus Phil Roberts — has more than 90 locations in the U.S., England and Mexico.
The menu includes items such as lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, shrimp fra diavolo and chicken parmigiana. Food is served family-style.
General Growth Properties described the decor as "quirky," with "irreverent photographs," gingham tablecloths and strands of multi-colored lights.
"It should be a really fun concept," Robertson said. "They're experienced in what they're doing, and we're excited to have them."
The Pasta House space had been vacant since it closed in September 2000 after less than a year at the mall.
The first Buca di Beppo restaurant opened in 1993 in the basement of a Minneapolis apartment building. The chain went public on the Nasdaq exchange in 1999 and was acquired in September 2008 by Planet Hollywood International.
Buca di Beppo Chairman Robert Earl said the deal with General Growth Properties is part of a strategy to put new restaurants in "retail environments that offer high traffic counts (and) appealing demographics."
The new restaurants will range from 4,500 to 7,000 square feet. Other malls that will get one as a result of the deal are in Tallahassee, Fla.; Augusta, Ga.; Macon, Ga.; Gretna, La.; Mesquite, Texas; Florence, Ky.; Baltimore; St. George, Utah; and Appleton, Wis.
The closest locations to Champaign are four stores in the Chicago area (downtown, Lombard, Orland Park and Wheeling) and three in the Indianapolis area (downtown, Castleton Square and Greenwood).
Chicago-based General Growth Properties owns or has an interest in 136 regional shopping malls in the United States.