Restaurant owner Ty Fujimura has been sorting out the future of his venues during the pandemic. Fujimura owns Arami, one of the city’s most respected sushi restaurants. He’s also behind Entente, the Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant that’s been closed for more than a year in River North. Then there’s Small Bar, a divey craft-beer and grill in Logan Square.
Fujimura isn’t ready to announce Entente’s closure; there seems to be some legal red tape involved. The lack of a formal declaration posed a dilemma for Michelin inspectors who kept the restaurant on its list of starred restaurants even though Entente hasn’t served a meal since 2020.
Another layer is the announcement that Entente chef Brian Fisher has a new gig. Fisher is now the culinary director for Seoul Taco, the seven-location chain that started in St. Louis and expanded to Chicago with a River North location. Owner David Choi has added locations in Hyde Park and suburban Naperville. Fisher is expected to help Choi expand as the fast-casual Korean-Mexican chain supposedly has its eyes set on New York and other markets.
While Fujimura didn’t speak much about Entente, he did announce a new project, a hybrid coffeeshop that also sells beer and wine near where CTA Brown Line cars are street level in Lincoln Square. Fujimura says Rockwell Bottle Shop & Coffee, a 1,500-square-foot space is not a bar. It’s where friends can hang out, have a quick conversation with friends or a barista, and then come home with a few bottles from the his store’s curated selection of craft beer, wine, and sake.
Fujimura is hopeful that Rockwell’s Bottle Shop and Coffee could open at the end of October at 4634 N. Rockwell Street, next to Rockwell’s Neighborhood Grill. It won’t have a full espresso bar, so doesn’t expect lattes: it’s just drip coffee and some tea. Being so close to the train, they’ll have some simple breakfast offerings.
“This place is more about that 2 p.m. coffee,” Fujimura says.
The bottle shop is a way Fujimura can do something new without the responsibilities of running another restaurant. The pandemic has proved frustrating, but Fujimura still wants to highlight purveyors he supports and local breweries that he likes. He envisions doing tasting events with his neighbors — an investor in Rockwell’s is also an investor in Small Bar (as well as a partner in the bottle shop).
But beyond that, Fujimura is excited about changes at Arami where they have a new chef, Ismael Lucero. Last year, Arami was set to celebrate its 10th anniversary, but the pandemic muted any chances of revelry. The restaurant opened in 2010 with chef B.K. Park. Park has gone on to open Juno in Lincoln Park. In 2019, Park opened a West Loop restaurant, Mako, that specializes in omakase meals. It’s since earned a Michelin star.
The new iteration of Arami, which opened for dine in August after a pandemic break, is leaning into the popularity of omakase in Chicago. While a traditional menu is also available, they’re also offering omakase at different price points — there’s even a vegetarian option. Customers can even call in omakase orders to go, giving staff a budget and sharing their fish preferences.
“I think we’ve really tightened the screws at Arami in a good way,” Fujimura says. “I feel really invigorated.”
Stay tuned for news on an opening date for the Lincoln Square project as October approaches.
Rockwell Bottle Shop & Coffee, 4634 N. Rockwell Street, scheduled to open at the end of October.