It’s been just over six months since the sudden closure of Yugen, the lauded Japanese restaurant in West Loop, shocked Chicago’s fine dining fans. It was the second abrupt shutter in the space in three years, following the well-publicized demise of three-Michelin-starred Grace. Now owner Michael Olszewski, ostensibly hoping that the third time’s the charm, is preparing to launch its replacement: Aikana Chicago, a “world-inspired pan-American experience,” slated to open in January 2022 on Randolph Restaurant Row.
Helmed by executive chef Alexander Quintero (Ambassador Chicago, BellyQ), Aikana will serve an a la carte menu featuring Central and South American cuisine. It’ll also offer a cocktail menu from veteran beverage director Benjamin Schiller (the Sixth, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Fifty/50 Restaurant Group) that plays on Latin American flavors and ingredients. The sleek, minimalist dining space will be transformed into a “lush jungle interior,” according to a news release. Nearly all other details remain under wraps for the time being, and Olszewski has not yet responded to a request for more information.
After the dramatic closure of world-famous Grace and the exit of former chef Curtis Duffy (Ever) in 2017 (Duffy and GM Michael Muser walked off the job in apparent disgust after trying to buy the restaurant from Olszewski; the parties resorted to mudslinging via lawsuits), Olszewski opened Yugen, an upscale Japanese restaurant from by executive chef Mari Katsumura (Acadia, Entente). Yugen ultimately earned national acclaim and a Michelin star in 2020. Katsumura also shepherded the restaurant through the early ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, introducing playful pivots like a grab-and-go market modeled after Japanese convenience stores and a tiki-inspired patio menu.
Katsumura submitted her resignation in May without sharing publicly the reasons behind the split. However, several Yugen workers tell Eater that the closure felt similar to Grace’s demise due to disagreements between owner and staff. Staff said prospective new chefs were being brought into the kitchen even as Katsumura worked. A Chicago native, Katsumura grew up in the restaurant world as the daughter of the late Yoshi Katsumura, founder pioneering restaurant Yoshi’s Cafe in Lakeview. Her mother Nobuko and brother Ken took over operations after his death, and ultimately closed the restaurant permanently on December 12 after nearly 40 years.
At the time of Yugen’s closure, Olszewski told Eater that he wasn’t concerned about perception despite multiple turnovers in relatively short order. This year he’s also been in the midst of an eviction fight with Loyola University over the space that housed his now-shuttered restaurant Onward in Rogers Park, according to an October report from Cook County Record. The court battle has produced some juicy correspondence among Loyola officials regarding Olszewski’s demeanor, as detailed by Fooditor.
Aikana Chicago, 652 W. Randolph Street, Scheduled to open in January 2022.