Ali Sabbah, the owner of three Mazza Mediterranean restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley, says he will close his cafe at 912 E. 900 South for good.

“It’s a painful decision,” he said Wednesday, “but in light of the current business atmosphere for restaurants and the reduction in demand, this was the best way to proceed.”

Sabbah opened the original Mazza, 1515 S. 1500 East, in March 2000. It quickly became a favorite spot for falafel, shawarma, lamb and other Middle Eastern cuisine.

That success allowed him to open a second location in 2007 in the 9th and 9th neighborhood.

Sabbah opened his third — and largest — location, at 10660 S. State in Sandy, last October.

All three restaurants shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus.

Sabbah was able to reopen the 1500 South location a few weeks later for curbside pickup, he said. He’s unsure when it will reopen for sit-down service. “The employees aren’t ready for that yet.”

He does plans to reopen the Sandy location in the coming weeks for dine-in service. It normally seats about 140 customers, he said, but with social distancing requirements it will be cut down to about 70 seats. It also has a large patio.

Sabbah said while the 900 South location “could hold a lot more people” than his original site, “closing made more sense economically” because the building is leased.

Located in one of the most popular areas of the city, he plans to sublease.

“Since we closed in March, I started thinking, ‘What do I want to do?‘” he said. “I didn’t know how long it was going last and the longer it took, the more we realized we had to make a decision for the long term. Closing Ninth was best because we don’t own the building.”