Just shy of their 10th anniversary, Sparti’s Gyros will close its doors for good on May 24 (or as soon as it runs out of food supplies).
The restaurant, located at 61 2nd St in Coralville, opened on June 1, 2009. Owner and manager Keith Brophy had just graduated from the University of Iowa and missed the meals of his Chicago-area upbringing.
“Italian beef, gyros and Chicago dogs were definitely staples of my diet growing up, and when I came out here, I just couldn’t find them,” Brophy told Little Village. “I thought it was definitely a niche product that would fit into this market very well.”
“I was very young and naïve when I opened it up 10 years ago, I had very little experience,” he added. “I learned a lot from my customers; it shaped the business.”
Brophy said two main factors influenced his choice not to renew the lease for the building Sparti’s occupies. (Sparti’s closure was announced via Facebook on Tuesday, May 14.)
“It was a difficult decision; we went back and forth,” Brophy said. “We really do like the location and we have a very loyal following, [but] we needed major renovations that we thought were necessary for us to stay. That just didn’t financially make sense to get those done.”
Apart from the building costs, Brophy said he had personal reasons for stepping away. When Brophy started Sparti’s — borrowing the name and concept from a friend, who opened the original Sparti’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin about a year before — he was unattached and willing to work 80-hour weeks. A decade later, he remains the sole operator, unlucky in his attempts over the years to bring on another owner or manager long-term.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a burden but it’s definitely a you’re-always-working kind of thing,” Brophy said. “I have a 4-year-old, 2-year-old and 9-month-old, so I wanted to enjoy some time with them while they’re still young.”
Sparti’s is known for its Greek and Chicago dishes, including gyros, souvlaki and pure beef hot dogs. Brophy said the restaurant’s anniversary was always his favorite time of year: A $3 gyro special would have customers lined up out the door every June 1. Once, they sold over 500 pounds of gyro in one day.
Though there were four Sparti’s in the Midwest at one time, the Coralville location is the last remaining. It may also be the first to return: Brophy plans to take the summer off, then start looking for a new location for the restaurant come fall, likely remaining in the Iowa City/Coralville area. He hopes to have Sparti’s up and running again within a year, ideally by October 2019.
As for the first era of Sparti’s, Brophy said the customers have been the highlight — “the regulars that come in day after day and enjoy your food, and you can see the smiles on their face and their full bellies when they’re leaving.”
“I really appreciate them coming in and supporting a local business,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been here even close to 10 years if it wasn’t for them.”