Mom’s, Chicago’s small-yet-mighty Japanese-American comfort food stand is now a moveable feast. The three-year-old spot known for whimsical hits like purple ube coconut doughnuts and crispy katsu sandos, ended its residency inside Bridgeport’s Marz Community Brewing in October and has taken on a new form: a weekly takeout-only bento pop-up at Konbini & Kanpai, a self-described Japanese-American slashie in Lakeview.
Founded in 2019 by Chicago chef Kelly Ijichi, Mom’s has carved out a noteworthy niche in the local dining scene with casual menu designed around the notion of Yōshoku, or Japanese cuisine with Western influences, as well as nostalgic flavor memories drawn from the chef’s childhood on the city’s Northwest Side. Pop-up life isn’t new to Ijichi — it’s the form Mom’s initially took before moving into Politan Row, a now-shuttered food hall in West Loop. The business relocated in 2020 to Marz, where it spent a year and a half before bidding farewell in the fall.
“I’m grateful to Marz for working with us and we able to accomplish a lot during the pandemic,” Ijichi says, pointing to the collaborative Community Kitchen and Community Canteen programs. Co-founded in June 2020 by Ed Marszewski (Marz) and chef Won Kim (Kimski), the initiatives have provided thousands of free or pay-what-you-can meals to essential workers, community and senior centers, and other hungry Chicagoans.
“We were throwing everything we had at a tough situation and that resulted in a lot of creativity. Now it’s come time for me to take Mom’s in another direction — something that’s a little more autonomous and offers more flexibility.”
Mom’s releases new bento pop-up menus on Tuesdays via Instagram so patrons can place online pre-orders for pickup on Saturdays at Konbini & Kanpai. Ijichi is also holding other one-off events around town, like an udon night fundraiser in December at Bayan Ko in Ravenswood. She’s also in the midst of relocating her cooking operation into a new commissary kitchen. Like numerous local chefs who have found freedom in pop-ups — previously considered a launchpad for those who want to eventually open a physical restaurant — she doesn’t plan on signing a lease in the foreseeable future.
Instead, she wants to use what she learned at the Community Kitchen, which drew independent chefs and staff from DMen Tap, Wherewithall, Iyanze Bronze, Bayan Ko, and dozens of other Chicago restaurants. Inspired by multi-faceted projects like Alt Economy from chef Jennifer Kim (Passerotto), Ijichi wants to keep building relationships with others who want to share resources to promote equity in the hospitality industry.
“I don’t see a brick-and-mortar any time soon for us,” Ijichi says. “In the past year and a half, I’ve been watching other industry professionals and independent alternative economies trying to see if there’s a better model. We’re definitely not done — we’re just trying to reimagine another way to operate that’s more collaborative and healthier for us, creating more of a balance.”
Block Club Chicago first reported this story.