If you’ve driven down Harrison Street toward downtown Davenport lately, you may have noticed the return of gyros.
Flanked by two large yellow signs reading, “Hot dogs” and “Gyros,” and overlooking the road, Lendi’s Gyros opened in September.
Afrim and Majlinda Goxhufi were eager to bring a Chicago-style Greek restaurant back to the neighborhood that includes Central High School and limited food options.
For nearly a decade, the property at 1008 N. Harrison St. previously housed Jimmy's King Gyros, which closed in June.
Shortly after closing on Harrison Street, Jimmy’s changed its operating name to Uptown Gyros and announced via Facebook it would move to a new location. Uptown Gyros is due to open its doors soon at 311 E. Locust St., Davenport.
The building’s owner Jeff Weindruch of Weindruch, Meade Inc., said business at Jimmy’s suffered after Harrison Street, which is a one-way, was closed for a few months in 2015.
“When the city shut down the road, they never recovered,” he said.
Afrim Goxhufi, who is originally from Kosovo, came to America in 1999 and worked as a truck driver for many years. After he got injured and could no longer drive for long stretches of time, he and his wife, who is originally from Albania, started thinking about opening their own restaurant.
They asked their real estate agent for help. At first, Weindruch “discouraged” the couple from the site of Jimmy’s King Gyros, where Afrim had previously worked off and on.
“I thought they would want something fresh and new,” he said.
After the couple renovated it, however, Weindruch says the building he bought about 30 years ago is “nicer than I’ve ever seen it.”
A big gamble
It was a risk, Weindruch said, for the Goxhufi family to open Lendi’s.
“It’s a big gamble,” he said. “This is a tough business. But here’s a couple who has worked hard and at some point they had a dream to open a restaurant. It just makes you smile to see it happen.”
The couple and their two children, Jada and Lendi (who the restaurant is named after), moved from their house into an apartment in Bettendorf to save money.
To help with the transition, they hired Jennifer Jordan, who formerly worked at Jimmy’s King Gyros.
“They’re first time restaurateurs and first-time business owners,” Jordan said. “I’m more than happy to help them in that process.”
Jordan, the restaurant's manager, also helps translate for the couple, who both primarily speak Albanian.
“We love her,” Majlinda said. “She’s the best for us.”
Four months into the business, the trio has established a “good amount of regulars,” Jordan said, including faculty and students from the nearby high school as well as St. Ambrose University and Palmer College of Chiropractic. Lendi’s hosts “Blue Devil Wednesday,” which features a 10 percent discount for the Central High School community.
It’s also helped, Weindruch said, that the area has been craving a new restaurant.
“That community needed something there,” he said.
After all, the property has been a restaurant since he has owned it. Early on, Weindruch opened a hot dog shop there and it later operated as seafood and barbecue joints before Jimmy’s King opened.
“It’s almost like a business incubator,” he said. “Some haven’t lasted and some have done very surprisingly well.”
He wants Lendi’s to do well. He keeps a stack of menus in his car to pass out to anyone he meets.
“I pass them out and say, ‘This is a real small business,’” Weindruch said. “You’re supporting a family.”
At Lendi’s, the signature item is, fittingly, the gyro, a Greek dish made with meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb) wrapped in a flatbread with tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce.
You can also order a Philly steak, polish sausage, hamburger, shrimp and fries, hot dog or chili dog with sides such onion rings, mozzarella sticks, chili-cheese fries and in-house hand-cut fries. Or, try the Jimmy Shoe, a legendary Chicago-style sandwich piled with corned and roast beef, gyro meat, onions and cheese on a roll and topped with vegetables and sauces.
The menu and small indoor space reminds Jordan, who grew up on the East Coast, of “an old corner gyro stand from 20 years ago in New York or Chicago.”
It’s also a modern version of the American dream for Afrim, who is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen and Majlinda, who is a green card holder.
“This is what America is based on,” Jordan said. “Living for our dreams. We put our hearts into everything everyday.”
On a recent Friday afternoon inside Lendi’s, as high schoolers were let out for the weekend, a student walked in. He didn’t have to say anything before Jordan asked, “Want the cheesy fries today?”
The customer nodded.
“I don’t know their last names,” she said. “But I can give you plenty of first names and what kind of food they like.”