The reasons for Farah's closure

Utility rates, campus dining the reasons for Farah's closure


Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 1:37 p.m.

When I went to talk with Nick Farah Jr. about his Gainesville restaurant closing, he warned me that he could only talk as long as he didn't have to cook.

Over the 33 years that he's owned Farah's on the Avenue, he's always worked in the kitchen. Farah opened the University Avenue restaurant when he was just 23 years old.

This week, he closes for good. He said he's been seeing a rush of longtime customers looking for a last taste of his Mediterranean specialties such as falafel, kibbie and tabouleh.

Farah attributed his closure of the business to several reasons. He cited rising local utility rates as a factor in a story in The Sun, giving fodder to the anti-biomass crowd.

But utility costs weren't the big reason, Farah told me. It's more about the University of Florida and the 45 dining options that it now offers on campus, he said.

Parents of undergraduates load their food cards with thousands of dollars that can be spent there. Students only have to leave campus to get alcohol or tobacco.

"The only thing the university has left us is the vices," Farah said.

Farah's started offering hookah pipes to smoke flavored tobacco in 2004, when the craze was just heating up. It had 30 hookahs at the peak; today it has just 10.

Other local hookah bars opened, and Farah said UF was again a factor in slowing business. A 2011 study by UF researchers found that just being around a hookah is hazardous to your health.

When I spoke with Farah last week, the owners of a Chinese restaurant opening at the location were marking the equipment that they wanted to keep. Farah expects that they'll do well, given UF's burgeoning international enrollment.

It's a tough environment for independent businesses. As the blog IndieGainesville pointed out in a post mourning Farah's closure, there's a growing trend toward corporate restaurants in the campus area.

The blog's directory of locally owned businesses is one way to encourage residents to keep their dollars in the community. With all the redevelopment projects planned in the area, community pressure is needed to ensure that they aren't filled with corporate chains.

Just a couple of blocks from Farah's, the planned University Corners project led to the displacement of the legendary Burrito Bros. Taco Co. Now the restaurant's home in the Presbyterian Student Center is threatened by a redevelopment project there; thankfully that project's architect told The Sun that Burrito Bros. is expected to make the transition.

While Farah's restaurant is closing, his falafel isn't disappearing from the area. He sells falafel burgers to 36 restaurants in Jacksonville and hopes to expand to Gainesville restaurants.

He already sells the burgers to the Go Go Stuff Yourself food truck here, and falafel fritters to Ward's Supermarket.

Farah said many more people will be eating his food than would have been possible if he just had the restaurant.

"When one door closes, another door opens," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 374-5075 or nathan.crabbe@gainesville.com.

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