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Biz Buzz: A year after a devastating fire, Zorba's Restaurant is back


One year after his Zorba's Restaurant closed because of fire, owner Mehmet Akpinar has reopened Zorba's, completely renovated.  Customers and local business owners have brought flowers to congratulate and to thank him and his wife, Isabel, on reopening.

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A year ago tomorrow, restaurateur Mehmet Akpinar got a call that rocked his world.

It was 7 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2010, and he was asleep. The phone rang. A friend was calling to tell him Zorba's Restaurant, the eatery that Akpinar and his wife, Isabel, have owned since 1998, was on fire.

"I thought it was a joke," he said.

The three-alarm fire gutted the restaurant and displaced more than 20 of his employees. "It was devastating."

The fire began a tortuous, nearly yearlong odyssey that included times when Akpinar was unsure if he and his wife would be able to reopen at all.

"This was really tough," Akpinar said, refusing to provide details. "There were so many things [about the process] I couldn't control. But I never lost faith."

The odyssey ended this past Saturday when the restaurant, in the Tuckernuck Square shopping center on West Broad Street in Henrico County, held its official grand reopening.

The date was symbolic for Akpinar, who wanted to reopen before the new year.

Nearly everything about Zorba's has changed, including the layout of the restaurant, the color scheme and the kitchen, Akpinar said.

"We could not rebuild it the way it was, so we looked to see what we could do to improve it."

What counts, however, hasn't changed, he said.

The menu is exactly what it was before, all but two of the employees returned and his wife is still in the kitchen. Even the portrait of the Akpinars' son, John, hangs at the bar — it's a duplicate though; the original burned.

What also returned? The customers.

Zorba's held a soft opening last week to test new systems, work out kinks in the kitchen and get the employees reacquainted with the restaurant.

Word quickly spread and, before long, the restaurant was packed. At 7 p.m. last Monday, Zorba's was turning diners away because the kitchen wasn't ready for the rush, he said.

By Thursday, though, the restaurant hadn't officially opened but was humming along and was busy as ever.

And Akpinar was back to working 14-hour days, which was reinvigorating, he said.

"I'm back to my life."

Furniture store closing

Downtown Richmond home furnishings retailer These Four Walls is shutting down.

"Unfortunately, we saw a huge drop in traffic this past year. The sidewalks in Shockoe were much, much quieter, and that hurt us," said Angie Heyming, who owns the store along with her husband, Hank.

Heyming officially announces the closing today.

These Four Walls, at 14th and East Cary streets, sells eclectic furniture and gift and decorative pieces.

Heyming, a former lawyer, opened the 11,000-square-foot store in early 2006, a couple of years before the economy soured.

The store is holding a liquidation sale, and Heyming hopes to sell off the entire inventory by the middle of February.

"Owning a retail store in this terrible economic environment has been tough," she said.

Mongolian BBQ

Genghis Grill is opening its first Richmond-area eatery.

The Mongolian barbecue restaurant chain is moving into Chesterfield Towne Center in space formerly occupied by Spinnaker's.

The space has been vacant since Spinnaker's closed in November 2009.

Genghis Grill is expected to open this spring.

The Dallas-based chain already has two restaurants in the state, both in Northern Virginia.

Also opening at Chesterfield Towne Center is Salon Plaza.

The salon, which just completed construction on a space that has an exterior entrance next to Old Navy, is expected to open in the first couple of weeks of this month.

Salon Plaza held an open house last week to introduce itself to potential stylists.

The company also is opening a location at the Shops at White Oak Village in eastern Henrico.

Free marketing

Several local nonprofits will get free marketing plans thanks to advertising students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The free work, which can include new websites, social media strategies and brochures, will be created during a 24-hour marathon session at VCU's School of Mass Communications' fifth annual CreateAthon in March.

In all, 12 local nonprofits get the free work.

The nonprofits getting help include the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, New Visions, New Ventures and the West End Community Center.

About 40 groups applied.

The list was narrowed based on an applicant's resources, how well its needs matched the students' expertise and whether those needs could be met within the 24-hour window.

The program is part of a semester-long class that specifically works on creating communications strategies for nonprofits.

Since VCU began holding CreateAthon, more than 50 nonprofits have received about $440,000 worth of free marketing.

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