College students have flocked to the greasy sub shop on 24th and Guadalupe streets known as Big Bite for the last eight years — until the store unexpectedly closed this month.
Owner Joseph Elghoul said he had to shut down the business when the lease expired at the end of December, and American Campus declined to re-lease the location.
“They wouldn’t give me a lease unless I got them a franchise,” Elghoul said. “Whoever’s going to come here, they’re not going to last. Look around you, look around campus. The only franchises that survive around campus is Whataburger and Chipotle. Everybody else that opens — they open, they close.”
A late-night hotspot, Big Bite opened in January 2009 after Elghoul moved to Austin from New Brunswick, New Jersey. The fast-food restaurant is famous for its greasy “fat” sandwiches laden with meat, and Elghoul said UT students constituted 75 to 80 percent of Big Bite’s customers.
“I’m a fast-food chain, like Whataburger, Burger King,” Elghoul said. “We catered to kids who were drunk or high, and most of it was like the sponge of alcohol food.”
Elghoul said he approached American Campus early last May regarding the lease to renew and did not receive a final answer until late January.
American Campus did not return requests for comment.
Elghoul said business was doing well at Big Bite in the months preceding the end of the lease, and he had intended to expand to other colleges, such as Texas State University and Texas A&M University.
“I said, ‘You know, Big Bite is one of the few restaurants that’s been open for eight years and had a solid business and kicking ass around campus,’” Elghoul said. “And you’re willing to give that up because you want to make $1,000 extra a month.”
Big Bite delivery driver Marc Boukal came to America from the U.K. five years ago and said working at Big Bite for the past four years was an incredible experience.
“(Joseph) is the greatest boss I’ve ever had,” Boukal said. “He cares about his people, (and) he cares about his business. But unfortunately, with the Castilian, the big fish eat small fish in this country sometimes.”
Finance sophomore Clipp McKeen said he never had a better meal past 1 a.m. in his entire life than when he ate at Big Bite.
“The sandwich creations were probably the most unique of any sandwich place I’d ever been to,” McKeen said. “It’s going to be very sad to not have one of those delicious sandwiches ever again.”
A food fanatic, Elghoul said he is going to start from ground zero to open an authentic Middle Eastern food trailer in Austin in the next few months.
Elghoul helped open the grease truck RU Hungry? at Rutgers University in New Brunswick in the early 1980s. In August 2004, Maxim magazine rated the “Fat Darrell” the best sandwich in America.
The replacement for the Big Bite location has not been announced.