Well, it's not like I didn't see it coming.
The first establishment I can remember in this building on Decker was The Captain's Kitchen, a seafood operation. I can't tell you a lot about it because I have never liked seafood, and don't have any specific memories of going there. I think I did go there several times -- I seem to recall my parents speaking of it with approval -- but if I did, I would have gotten a burger or sandwich off the kids' menu.
I'm not entirely sure when The Captain's Kitchen closed, but I suspect it was in the late 60s or early 70s. At any rate, after that, a Zorba's opened in the building. It's hard to explain today how limited cuisine choices were in a medium-sized Southern city in those days. Pizza was considered an exotic food, Mexican restaurants were unknown, Chinese places were rare, and I suspect still tended towards "chop suey" and Greek food was completely unknown outside of Greek families. Today, everyone loves "Greek Salad", back then we didn't even know what it was and Feta cheese was very suspect (it wasn't even yellow!). Which is to say we didn't eat at Zorba's much, and when we did, I got a cheeseburger.
My memory is hazy on the details here, but at some point in, I believe, the 80s, the manager of Zorba's on Decker bought out the Zorba's people and rechristened the restaurant as Sparta. The only real difference was new signage, new menus and opening the restaurant on Sundays. Greek food was a bit less exotic by that point, and we ate there more frequently, and I started to discover the joys of feta in spanikopita and Greek Salads.
I don't know what happened next, but suddenly, Sparta was gone, and the place was Zorba's again (and closed on Sundays again). At this point, I had moved out of town, but had become quite fond of the food, and would often eat Saturday lunch there when I was back in Columbia. Things seemed to move along basically unchanged into the 90s and early 2000s.
At some point in that timeframe, Zorba's became the default place for my father, sister & I to have Saturday lunch (I was generally in town on Saturdays). My father had not been wild about Greek food at first, but gradually came to really like the place, and the staff was always very solicitious of him, especially as it became harder for him to get around.
About this time, the "flight from Decker" started as the Decker Corridor went into decline. Again, I got bits and pieces of this in conversation and may have parts wrong, but I also think that the owner had some health issues and needed to cut back his responsibilities some. He ended up selling the restaurant to an Asian couple and staying on as manager. To combat the decrease in business, he & they decided to refurbish the deck area and try to make Zorba's an afternoon cocktail destination. Unfortunately, it didn't work, and business continued to decline.
By 2003, I was back in Columbia, and eating lunch at Zorba's three times a week (Monday, Wednesday & Friday). I liked to come in about 3pm, have the "stuffed shells" or "cheese manicoti" special, and drink tea and read a book for the rest of my lunch hour after finishing eating. The waitresses knew me, and always kept my glass well filled.
After that, the The Signs Your Favorite Restaurant Is About to Close set in.
First was "sign #1: the hours change". Suddenly Zorba's was no longer open for dinner, just from 11:00am to 3:00pm for lunch. Not only was this a bad sign, but it meant that to eat there, I had to go at 2:00pm, earlier than I generally like to eat lunch (yes, I'm a night owl), so I started going on Monday's only.
Then there was "sign #3: the staffing level drops". Where there had been several waitresses before, now there was only one, and she was new.
After that, there was "sign #5: staff cleaning the restrooms rather than a sanitation service" and "sign #6: the menu changes" -- the formerly full menu + specials was reduced to a skimpy lunch menu + specials.
Finally, when I went in on Monday 26 May 2008, we had "sign #2: they are out of something mundane". In this case, it was lettuce, so instead of the greek salad with the manicotti, I had to choose rice or potatoes instead.
I'm putting 2 June 2008 in the title for this post, but I can't actually say that's the first day they weren't open as I was on vacation the week after 26 May. It's a deduction based on them not getting full deliveries for the week of 26 May and being definitely closed when I went by on 9 June. Combined with that, a new month with all its bills is a logical time to close up shop and the telephone is already disconnected. Actually it's a bit interesting. If it weren't for the phone being disconnected, I wouldn't be absolutely sure. There is no signage at all indicating that they are closed. Usually there is a "Thanks to all our wonderful customers for a great XX years" taped to the door, but not here.
Inside, you can still see the Cheese Manicotti special on the white-board. Oh well -- Thanks guys! I enjoyed it!
UPDATE 2 April 2009: Added Captain's Kitchen Yellow Pages ad from 1970
UPDATE 9 April 2009:
Well, for a while the sign said that an Italian restaurant was coming (Giovanni's, I think), but that never happened, and now it appears the place will be a Mexican restaurant for Mexicans (at least that is my interpretation since the sign says "Patrones Restaurante Mexicano Y Barra" rather than "Patrones Mexican Restaurant & Bar".
I don't know what's up with the For Sale sign, unless the area between the old Redwing and the restaurant is a seperate parcel.
I have to say I don't like the lettering here at all:
UPDATE 14 June 2009: Added the 1977 Southern Bell Yellow Pages ad above
UPDATE 8 June 2012 -- The new operation in this building, Continintal Bar & Grill (a very un-Mexican sounding name to me, though perhaps not to a Mexican) seems to be open. Except that I have yet to ever see a single car there.