Cindy Diven, 56, is mourning the loss of her all-time favorite chicken wings.
The closing of Farah’s on the Avenue also means the loss of a place to connect with old friends, for Diven.
“Farah’s has always been to me the way ‘Cheers’ is portrayed in the TV show,” Diven said.
Friday will be the last day Farah’s on the Avenue will be open and serving up Diven’s favorite wings.
Diven, a long-time Gainesville resident, started frequenting Farah’s on the Avenue with her UF Rugby teammates after games more than 30 years ago.
“It’s the neighborhood place where you go and always run into people you know,” she said.
Diven has been a customer since before the Mediterranean restaurant added a bar, an atrium and hookahs. Back then, it had one dining room and a patio in front.
In the past, other bars, restaurants and shops on West University Avenue came and went, but Farah’s on the Avenue has remained since its opening in 1980.
Owner Nick Farah said he has been around long enough to see his customers and employees get older, raise families and bring their children to the restaurant.
“I’ll miss the people of Gainesville,” Farah said. “Watching generations, watching trends change and 33 football seasons — you grow to love them and hate them.”
Farah opened the restaurant when he was 23 years old and has worked there almost every day since, mostly in the kitchen.
“Over half my life has been in this building,” Farah said. “Think about that: If you had to go to the same space every day, wouldn’t you feel kind of tired or like you’ve lost your creativity? Everybody needs change.”
Locals won’t feel the void of their favorite Farah’s dishes forever. Farah’s next move is to concentrate on Farah’s Mediterranean Foods in Jacksonville, the wholesale food manufacturing facility he opened earlier this year. Ward’s Supermarket has already sold his falafel for seven years.
Farah said he will spend the next few years learning from his mother, Sue, who already owns a successful catering company in Jacksonville. He wants to see how he might make more efficient her old-school methods of cooking.
“She won’t trust anybody else with her recipes,” he said. “It’s kind of like going back to culinary school.”
Farah will add his family recipes for grape leaves, falafel, kibbeh and more to the market of packaged Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eats. These foods have became more popular in recent years due to a growing trend in healthier eating, along with a number of studies supporting the claim that people on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets live longer with fewer health problems.
Hummus, for example, has increased in popularity as a low-fat, high-protein snack, generating $530 million among U.S. food retailers last year (25 percent more than in 2010), according to market research firm Information Resources Inc.
Besides the urge to expand his family’s brand, Farah cites rising bills from Gainesville Regional Utilities and growing competition from campus dining options as factors in his decision to close the restaurant.
“I got calls and complaints every summer from all the other restaurants wanting to know what my bill is,” Farah said. “Every year they do an increase and they tell us how much it’ll be.”
GRU announced in August that electric rates are expected to go up more than 12 percent this year. Farah said that he has come to expect a rate increase every year, making bills higher, especially during the heat of the summer.
GRU is raising rates because of the increased price of gas and coal, according to the Gainesville Sun.
“We understand the challenges facing Farah’s, as they have had trouble paying their bill since around 2011. Typically, energy costs make up only 3-5 percent of a restaurant’s total operating expenses,” GRU spokeswoman Kendall Litton Jensen wrote in a statement. “While many factors can cause a business to fail, GRU offers expertise to help customers cut their utility costs. Customers should call us for help if they want to lower their bill.”
The 45 dining options on the University of Florida campus have also reduced some of his traffic, Farah said.
“It’s always sad when a restaurant or business nearby the University of Florida struggles,” UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said in a statement. “The student population has grown by 16,000 since 1989, and the number of employees has increased by 2,500. We believe that growth of student population certainly supports area businesses and we’re sorry if theirs is struggling.”
“The only thing the university left us is the vices: hookahs and alcohol,” Farah said.
Ben Talbot, who has worked at Farah’s on the Avenue for almost a decade, has noticed a visible decrease in traffic. He attributes this to the downturn of the economy as well as losing students to campus dining.
“When campus closes down for a week, we have our old business back,” Talbot said. “That, to me, speaks volumes.”
This has been the “easiest job in the world” for Talbot, who said he will work more hours at Chain Reaction Bicycles after Farah’s closing. There is a lot of camaraderie within the staff. Farah even called other restaurants to secure jobs for his employees following the official lease of Farah’s old building.
A new Chinese restaurant, Small China House, will open at Farah’s old location on a 5-year lease.
“There are a lot of memories there for a lot of people,” Diven said. “On game days I probably won’t go out. There’s no place I’m drawn to.”