Yugen, a fine-dining restaurant with an exorbitant tasting menu of $ 215 per person, suddenly closed on Wednesday, and it’s the second sudden shutter of the space in three years. In November 2018, Yugen replaced Grace, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant that closed in December 2017. Grace’s disappearance made national headlines and prompted owner Michael Olszewski to install his daughter, Morgan, as manager. general for a fresh start.
Despite the pressure to succeed in the same space where former Grace Chef Curtis Duffy gained worldwide recognition, Yugen found success thanks to Executive Chef Mari Katsumura. Katsumura – a seasoned pastry chef who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like Acadia and the Entente – has found her own path. Yugen was part of a wave of four Japanese restaurants in Chicago that were awarded star status in the 2020 Michelin Guide.
But after considering her role, Katsumura tendered her resignation on May 10 in what she calls an amicable split; it is not leaving the industry as indicated in a press release. Olszewski praised his former chef and Yugen staff for their efforts to keep the restaurant afloat during the pandemic. He even encouraged other restaurants to hire them locally.
âI’m not trying to sound boastful, but Yugen was the best restaurant in Chicago,â says Olszewski. âHer food, her service, her pairings and just the people who worked here were incredibly talented and talented.â
Olszewski’s compliments show a different mood as the increased conflict between Duffy, Managing Director Michael Muser and Olszewski resulted in a staff departure at Grace and subsequent shutdown in December 2017. Olszewski quickly turned down returned with Yugen, who debuted in November 2018. Despite Katsumura’s new menu, he still looked a lot like Grace as the restaurant kept the same color scheme, tables and designer chairs at $ 1000. Meanwhile, Duffy and Muser opened Ever last year at Fulton Market. Michelin awarded the restaurant two stars last month.
Olszewski says he’s not worried his reputation will be tainted after another sudden shutdown. He said he already had a replacement idea and could make an announcement “within a month”. He hinted that he already had a chef in mind, his second choice to replace Duffy in 2018 when he hired Katsumura. A new restaurant could open this year in the same space.
âIt will be totally new and different,â he says. “It’s going to have a wow factor, an OMG factor.”
Although she is proud of her successes during the pandemic, the work appeared to take its toll on Katsumura. The chef says she needed a break after 10 solid years of working in the industry, a stint that included one of the most grueling aspects of the business, opening restaurants. She says she needs a little time to recharge her batteries. The Chicago native plans to stay in town and maybe open her own restaurant in the future: “Isn’t that everyone’s dream?” Katsumura said.
Without Katsumura, Yugen’s menu doesn’t make sense, a chef can’t slip into his role: âThese are my stories, these are my dishes,â she says. Katsumura adds that she “had a little guilt” about leaving “because it is actually a very sad thing”.
Restaurants are in Katsumura’s blood. Her mother owns Yoshi’s Cafe in Lakeview, a restaurant that her father, the late Yoshi Katsumura, founded in 1982. Mari Katsumura says she is available to host, clean tables and help if her mother, Nobuko, is in. agreement.
âIf she needs my help, I would be happy to help her with whatever she needs,â she says.