ITHACA, N.Y. — Aladdin’s Natural Eatery has been an anchor in the Collegetown community for three decades, but this weekend the restaurant served its last meals.

Closing was a very difficult but necessary decision, owner Sam Schuepbach said. Since opening in 1989, Schuepbach said they have enjoyed “many, many years of great success and community support and enthusiasm.”

Over the years, Aladdin’s has taken part in many community-focused events like “Taste of the Nation,” which raises money to end childhood hunger. For several years, he also hosted a free Thanksgiving meal for people in need. The idea came from his family around the holidays and he had help planning from his wife, stepdaughters, and staff. The flyers he circulated in 2014 to promote the event read: “It is our honor to serve a complimentary meal to those in need.” Schuepbach estimates they cooked more than 20 turkeys and served more than 250 people.

Aladdin’s has long been a favorite for Greek, Middle Eastern and Italian fare, recognized in a number of positive newspaper reviews over the years and by different “best of” awards.

One of Schuepbach’s neighbors of nearly 20 years, Chuck Cooley, co-owner of Classic Optical, said he was devastated to learn Aladdin’s was closing. He said the restaurant has been an “anchor” business in Collegetown and a boost to the local economy.

Sam Schuepbach has owned Aladdin’s Natural Eatery since 1989.
Sam Schuepbach has owned Aladdin’s Natural Eatery since 1989.

Aladdin’s is the latest in a number of longtime establishments that have disappeared from Collegetown’s evolving and rising landscape. Last year, the owners of The Nines retired and sold their property. In recent years, some other businesses that have closed include Stella’s, the Royal Palm Tavern, Pixel, Dino’s, The Chapter House and even Dunkin Donuts.

Though Aladdin’s has remained at the heart of Collegetown at 100 Dryden Rd. for many years, around the restaurant, Collegetown has been changing.  With a number of shop vacancies, construction projects, road closures, and parking issues in recent years, it’s been a tough time for local businesses in Collegetown. Cooley, who has had tough times through the phases of construction also, said he thinks there is a lack of empathy and thoughtfulness from city leaders and developers on the short-term impact to merchants.

“We need development and I’m a fan of the development,” Cooley said. “I think it’s great that we’re going to have more offices and more housing and ostensibly more people in the core of Collegetown, but at the same time when a project that’s slated for three months takes more than 18 months of street closure that changes people’s habits.”

Aladdin’s was the longest tenant Travis Hyde Properties has had, Frost Travis said. Aladdin’s has occupied the building at 100 Dryden Rd. since its construction. Travis said he is “deeply saddened” by the business’ closing. Being in business for so long “speak volumes to Sam’s prowess as a restauranteur,” Travis said.

“He’s one of the hardest working people I know. I wish him great success in the future,” Travis said.

Though it’s a hard time, Schuepbach is remaining positive. A note posted on the door of Aladdin’s this week states that many factors have left him no other option but to close, but he thanked all of his current and past employees because “without them no small business can survive.” He also thanked Travis Hyde Properties for 30 years of partnership, and finally expressed gratitude to the Ithaca community.

“It takes support from everybody for a small business to survive, and I want to thank everybody,” Schuepbach said.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.