After a decade in Wicker Park, one of Chicago’s premier vegetarian restaurants, Mana Food Bar, is closing in mid-September. Ownership plans to open a new restaurant in the space. Mana shares space with Anaba Hand Roll Bar, a sushi spot from the same ownership. Anaba will remain open and they’ll expand its menu after Mana closes.
September 15 is the official closing date. Co-owner Susan Thompson said she and chef Jill Barron felt they needed to make a change to bring the Mana space more in line with what they’re doing with Anaba. The Division Street stretch has changed over the last 10 years, and they want to adapt. This has been the plan since Anaba opened in November inside Mana’s original space. They moved Mana to a newly built back area and run the restaurant as two separate entities.
“Don’t think about this as Mana just ending, think about it as evolving,” Thompson said.
Mana was a sleek and narrow restaurant where customers feasted on vegetarian Korean sliders and cold noodles. But, as Thompson said, they found themselves getting apathetic. Customers were only ordering the greatest hits, and they even scaled the menu back because it felt fruitless to prep food that no one was ordering. A few of those classic Mana items (veggie gyoza, seaweed salad) will survive as part of Anaba’s new small plate menu.
As far as the new concept, they’ll close Mana and make a few cosmetic changes to the space. While Mana’s menu may be unique, over the last 10 years other Chicago restaurants have caught on to the notion that it might be a good idea to offer customers exciting vegetarian options beyond a sad pasta dish. As chefs began giving meat-free options more attention, it increased competition for Mana.
“We’re not just in competition with vegetarian restaurants, we’re in competition with everyone,” Thompson said.
Thompson also co-owns Sushi Dokku and Booze Box in the West Loop. She doesn’t want to reveal too much but it could open as early as October. They will serve meat, but they will have vegetarian options.
“It’s not going to turn into a bacon fest back there,” she said.
While the area loses another 100-percent vegetarian spot — Green Zebra shuttered last year nearby too — at least No Bones Beach Club is inching closer to opening on North Avenue. Thompson will reveal more about the restaurant replacing Mana in the coming weeks.