"We're pretty emotional about (Momotaro)," Boka Restaurant Group partner Kevin Boehm says. "How do you build something that's timeless?"
That's the lofty goal Boehm and partner Rob Katz had for designing and building Momotaro, their 11,500-square-foot Japanese restaurant they hope will become the crown jewel of their restaurant empire that's full of one success after another. Boehm and Katz began with a blank slate, a completely raw West Loop warehouse with no infrastructure whatsoever (remember this?) and turned it into an intricate and majestic three-floor ode to mid-twentieth century Japanese business culture, a post-World War II boom known as the "economic miracle."
Designer Adam Farmerie of New York-based Avroko says the beginning impetus was to be different from all traditional Japanese restaurants. "Instead of looking back at ancient Japan, why don't we look back at 20th century Japan in an era where there's an interesting collusion of east and west?"
Momotaro's ground floor, which includes a 130-seat dining room, is modeled after a Japanese office space where workers might toil in the day. A 10-seat bar, set in front of a Japanese stock market-inspired backdrop, stretches clear through the next floor.
Japanese street markets, which eventually became food stalls near train stations that businesspeople would visit in the evening, are the inspiration for Momotaro's underground level that houses a 100-seat izakaya bar. Another bar lives downstairs with seating for 24.
The top floor is an homage to a Japanese board room, complete with photos of 1950's Japanese businessmen that work for a fictitious company, set around a 24-seat communal private dining table.
Farmerie understates the project as "fairly large and complex." Case in point: 991,000 Bic pen strokes composes an art piece on a bathroom hallway.
Will Momotaro indeed become the crown jewel of a restaurant group whose resume includes Girl & the Goat, Boka, GT Fish & Oyster, and so many more smash hits? If you use the space alone as the barometer, it just might.