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Founder of Chicago's First Sushi Restaurant Honored

Founder of Chicago's First Sushi Restaurant Honored
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  • Founder of Chicago's First Sushi Restaurant Honored

    Post #1 - November 14th, 2008, 11:04 am
    Post #1 - November 14th, 2008, 11:04 am Post #1 - November 14th, 2008, 11:04 am
    This coming Monday, Nov. 17, Marion Konishi, founder of Kamehachi, will be honored by the City of Chicago with an honorary street dedication. The dedication takes place at 4 p.m. at Wells and Schiller streets, directly in front of Kamehachi’s Old Town location, 1400 N. Wells St., Chicago.
  • Post #2 - November 14th, 2008, 11:12 am
    Post #2 - November 14th, 2008, 11:12 am Post #2 - November 14th, 2008, 11:12 am
    HI,

    I have to tell you I think the claim to founding the first sushi place in Chicago is a bit self-annointed. I had a reporter contact me who wanted me to say they were the first. I just don't know. People who were around much earlier than Kamehachi, such as the owner of Sunshine Cafe (WWII) or Katsu, who was doing Japanese food in the 1960's, may have a better grasp of early sushi dining in Chicago.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #3 - November 17th, 2008, 3:00 pm
    Post #3 - November 17th, 2008, 3:00 pm Post #3 - November 17th, 2008, 3:00 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:I had a reporter contact me who wanted me to say they were the first. I just don't know.

    I suspect there's more than a little truth to that claim. There were plenty of Japanese restaurants in Chicago before Kamehachi opened in 1967, and some of those served sushi, but I'm not sure there were any that specialized in it like Kamehachi. The Chicago Kamehachi began as an offshoot of the Tokyo-based chain, opening a little after the New York branch.

    Wisteria Tea Room, on Ohio Street in the mid-1940s, is sometimes credited with being Chicago's first Japanese restaurant. That's not true but it was probably one of the first patronized by non-Japanese (in 1931 John Drury discussed Shintani's, a southside sukiyaki specialist). I've seen a menu from Wisteria and recall sashimi but not sushi. I believe it was just an item or two on a large menu featuring sukiyaki.

    The elegant Naka-No-Ya on Lincoln Park West was another well-known Japanese restaurant from the late 1950s. They were known for their tatami rooms and sukiyaki (of course). But they also served sushi in the early '60s. They had no sushi bar but prepared each order tableside. We had a brief discussion of this restaurant a couple years ago. Maybe someone who ate there can fill us in.

    Another early Chicago sushi bar was Hashikin on Clark near Fullerton. I think they opened in the early 1970s and may have been Chicago's second formal sushi bar. By the end of the 1970s Chicago had about half a dozen.
  • Post #4 - November 17th, 2008, 5:27 pm
    Post #4 - November 17th, 2008, 5:27 pm Post #4 - November 17th, 2008, 5:27 pm
    The first place I ever had sushi was Happi Sushi on Clark south of Roscoe, in like 1978. (I think it's an African restaurant now.) I make no claim that it was the first one here, merely the first one I ever knew about, and when I knew about it, I didn't know about any others. I'd be interested to learn if it was almost first--like maybe third or fourth?
  • Post #5 - November 17th, 2008, 5:55 pm
    Post #5 - November 17th, 2008, 5:55 pm Post #5 - November 17th, 2008, 5:55 pm
    riddlemay wrote: I'd be interested to learn if it was almost first--like maybe third or fourth?


    I'd say it's very doubtful. In that neighborhood, both Mitsua and Itto Sushi were around long before Happy Sushi, and I doubt either one of those places was an early sushi restaurant, either. There was also the place (Kayo?) on the corner of Clark near Roscoe/Sheffield that is a real old timer...probably dating back to the late 50's, though it's not a pure sushi restaurant. It's the first place I ever saw a tatami room.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #6 - November 17th, 2008, 9:57 pm
    Post #6 - November 17th, 2008, 9:57 pm Post #6 - November 17th, 2008, 9:57 pm
    riddlemay wrote:The first place I ever had sushi was Happi Sushi on Clark south of Roscoe, in like 1978. (I think it's an African restaurant now.) I make no claim that it was the first one here, merely the first one I ever knew about, and when I knew about it, I didn't know about any others. I'd be interested to learn if it was almost first--like maybe third or fourth?

    As I understand it (see above) Chicago's first sushi bar was Kamehachi (1967) and Hashikin (early 1970s) was the second. Happi Sushi was one of the early ones, possibly no later than fifth. A Tribune article from 1978 states, "Six Chicago restaurants serve sushi and five have sushi bars." They list (alphabetically) Happi Sushi (3346 N Clark), Hashikin (2338 N Clark), Kabuki (101 E Ontario), Kamehachi (1617 N Wells), Mikado (5862 N Lincoln; no bar) and Tokyo (1935 W Irving Park).

    stevez wrote:I'd say it's very doubtful. In that neighborhood, both Mitsua and Itto Sushi were around long before Happy Sushi, and I doubt either one of those places was an early sushi restaurant, either. There was also the place (Kayo?) on the corner of Clark near Roscoe/Sheffield that is a real old timer...probably dating back to the late 50's, though it's not a pure sushi restaurant. It's the first place I ever saw a tatami room.

    Matsuya is indeed an old restaurant but sushi is much newer there. I believe the sushi bar dates from the 1980s, after they expanded and remodeled.

    I can find no evidence that Itto Sushi predated Happi Sushi (which was definitely in business by 1978). On the contrary, the earliest mention of Itto that I've found is a 1983 Tribune article mentioning it as one of "the latest entries in Chicago's great sushi explosion."

    Kiyo's at 2827 N Clark is discussed, without any mention of sushi, in a 1969 Tribune article that calls Kamehachi "our first real 'sushi' restaurant" and mentions it was introduced to Chicago at Naka-No-Ya over seven years previously. The author of this article (and many others from that period) was Kay Loring, apparently quite fanatical and knowledgeable about Japanese food and sushi. In a different (1971) article she mentions that Kiyo's opened after Naka-No-Ya, thus fixing its debut to the 1960s. I suspect that, as with Matsuya, the introduction of sushi came later after its popularity began to spread.

    So I would say it's not doubtful at all (to me at least) that Happi Sushi was among the first few true sushi specialists in Chicago.
  • Post #7 - November 17th, 2008, 10:15 pm
    Post #7 - November 17th, 2008, 10:15 pm Post #7 - November 17th, 2008, 10:15 pm
    Rene G wrote:
    I can find no evidence that Itto Sushi predated Happi Sushi (which was definitely in business by 1978). On the contrary, the earliest mention of Itto that I've found is a 1983 Tribune article mentioning it as one of "the latest entries in Chicago's great sushi explosion."


    Rene G,

    Does that article in the Tribune mention the address for Itto? They were in a small storefront on Clark and Deming for several years before they moved to their location on Halsted. I'm suspecting that the 1983 article is about the move to Halsted, though I could very well be wrong.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #8 - November 17th, 2008, 10:51 pm
    Post #8 - November 17th, 2008, 10:51 pm Post #8 - November 17th, 2008, 10:51 pm
    stevez wrote:Does that article in the Tribune mention the address for Itto? They were in a small storefront on Clark and Deming for several years before they moved to their location on Halsted. I'm suspecting that the 1983 article is about the move to Halsted, though I could very well be wrong.

    The Tribune article by Mark Knoblauch is dated June 5, 1983. Unfortunately the exact addresses for Samurai Sushi and Itto Sushi—the two restaurants he discusses—aren't available. Probably the text box containing those details didn't make it into the ProQuest database I'm using. But it's still quite clear he's talking about the Itto on Clark.

    Mark Knoblauch wrote:The latest entries in Chicago's great sushi explosion are on North Clark Street, not far from the Japanese neighborhoods that introduced sukiyaki and tempura to an eager public. But at both these places you see few Japanese diners. The American melting pot has made sushi so popular with non-Japanese that its inventors have been crowded out. Samurai Sushi and Itto Sushi serve respectable versions of the traditional fare of the sushi bar. Samurai's food outshines its neighbor's but the crowds that pour into Itto nightly give a better idea of the enjoyable conviviality that a sushi bar generates.
  • Post #9 - November 18th, 2008, 6:48 am
    Post #9 - November 18th, 2008, 6:48 am Post #9 - November 18th, 2008, 6:48 am
    Mark Knoblauch wrote:The latest entries in Chicago's great sushi explosion [Itto Sushi and Samurai Sushi] are on North Clark Street, not far from the Japanese neighborhoods that introduced sukiyaki and tempura to an eager public. But at both these places you see few Japanese diners. The American melting pot has made sushi so popular with non-Japanese that its inventors have been crowded out.

    One way in which times have changed since 6/5/83 is that Itto was recently top-listed by Time Out in a sidebar titled (paraphrasing) "Japanese Restaurants Japanese People Like to Go."

    (This is borne out by our observations; we are regulars at Itto, and almost always we see tables occupied by Japanese families or groups of friends.)
  • Post #10 - November 18th, 2008, 12:54 pm
    Post #10 - November 18th, 2008, 12:54 pm Post #10 - November 18th, 2008, 12:54 pm
    Rene, I assume you refer above to the 2/7/'71 Loring article "Japanese Resturants -- Tea Rooms to Sushi Bars". Interesting stuff. It looks as if Japanese cafes, particularly sukiyaki places, were very common around Chicago at least from the 50's to the 70's, but Loring does suggest off hand that sashimi was on the menu at Azuma (another old place that pops up often) and Naka-No-Ya. In the same article Loring, who did seem to know the scene well, unambiguously described Kamehachi as Chicago's first real sushi bar.

    I haven't been able to figure out how long we've had Ginza, though it does seem to go back to the early 70's at least.
  • Post #11 - November 18th, 2008, 2:17 pm
    Post #11 - November 18th, 2008, 2:17 pm Post #11 - November 18th, 2008, 2:17 pm
    Rene G wrote:The Tribune article by Mark Knoblauch is dated June 5, 1983. Unfortunately the exact addresses for Samurai Sushi and Itto Sushi—the two restaurants he discusses—aren't available. Probably the text box containing those details didn't make it into the ProQuest database I'm using. But it's still quite clear he's talking about the Itto on Clark.

    Mark Knoblauch wrote:The latest entries in Chicago's great sushi explosion are on North Clark Street, not far from the Japanese neighborhoods that introduced sukiyaki and tempura to an eager public. But at both these places you see few Japanese diners. The American melting pot has made sushi so popular with non-Japanese that its inventors have been crowded out. Samurai Sushi and Itto Sushi serve respectable versions of the traditional fare of the sushi bar. Samurai's food outshines its neighbor's but the crowds that pour into Itto nightly give a better idea of the enjoyable conviviality that a sushi bar generates.


    Interesting. I could have sworn that I regularly went to Itto long before that. I lived around the corner of the Clark location for 18 years, both before and after it was Itto. I could very well be confused about the dates.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #12 - November 19th, 2008, 9:11 am
    Post #12 - November 19th, 2008, 9:11 am Post #12 - November 19th, 2008, 9:11 am
    JeffB wrote:Rene, I assume you refer above to the 2/7/'71 Loring article "Japanese Resturants -- Tea Rooms to Sushi Bars". Interesting stuff. It looks as if Japanese cafes, particularly sukiyaki places, were very common around Chicago at least from the 50's to the 70's, but Loring does suggest off hand that sashimi was on the menu at Azuma (another old place that pops up often) and Naka-No-Ya. In the same article Loring, who did seem to know the scene well, unambiguously described Kamehachi as Chicago's first real sushi bar.

    I'd read her article from February 7 but I was actually referring to her "New Face on Japanese Cafe Scene" from five days later. The article is mostly about the debut of Suehiro ("I'd scarcely pulled a revised listing of Japanese restaurants in Chicago from my typewriter before the bright and promising Suehiro made its appearance") but it's there she explicitly mentions that Kiyo opened after Naka-No-Ya. Ms Loring was certainly up to date on Japanese restaurants.

    Before sushi became popular it seems that sukiyaki was the dish in Chicago's Japanese restaurants. In the late 1950s Azuma and soon after Naka-No-Ya were known for sukiyaki prepared tableside in elegant surroundings (both featured tatami rooms). Some fifteen years earlier, tableside sukiyaki was a specialty at Wisteria Tea Room. Their ads boasted they were the only one in Chicago preparing this dish.

    Chicago's passion for sukiyaki might be traced back to the success of Mrs Shintani's in the early 1930s (briefly mentioned above). Although not the first Japanese restaurant in Chicago, Mrs Shintani's garnered quite a bit of publicity for their sukiyaki, being included in several of John Drury's books and featured in an article in the Tribune. This long article from May 1, 1931, complete with a photo of Tomiye Shintani preparing her signature dish, is very interesting. It provides surprisingly detailed and authentic recipes, including one for chawanmushi and instructions on how to prepare dashi from bonito flakes and kombu ("kobu"). I have to say I'm impressed with the Tribune's coverage of Chicago's early Japanese food scene.

    Mrs Shintani's restaurant was on Lake Park Avenue near 37th from the early 1930s (if not before) to 1934 when it moved to Rush Street. From all accounts it was an excellent and popular place until December 7, 1941 when it was closed by police. It later reopened but got very little publicity.

    JeffB wrote:I haven't been able to figure out how long we've had Ginza, though it does seem to go back to the early 70's at least.

    I'm curious about Ginza too but wasn't able to find much information. It must be among Chicago's oldest but I wonder if it goes all the way back to the early '70s.

    stevez wrote:Interesting. I could have sworn that I regularly went to Itto long before that. I lived around the corner of the Clark location for 18 years, both before and after it was Itto. I could very well be confused about the dates.

    If you look at Itto's website you'll see the claim, "We are the oldest Japanese Restaurants in Chicagoland, located in the heart of Lincoln Park. Serving traditional Japanese food for 24 years." That's consistent with a 1983 (or thereabout) opening. Of course their claim of "oldest" isn't even remotely true, with Kamehachi and Matsuya certainly beating them by many years.
  • Post #13 - July 4th, 2011, 1:16 pm
    Post #13 - July 4th, 2011, 1:16 pm Post #13 - July 4th, 2011, 1:16 pm
    JeffB wrote:I haven't been able to figure out how long we've had Ginza, though it does seem to go back to the early 70's at least.

    According to a contemporary newspaper account, Ginza Fish opened at the end of 1986 as an all-fried-fish Japanese fast food restaurant. It was under the same ownership as Ginza Sushi in Schiller Park. Only later did it become the restaurant with sushi bar it is today.

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