Signage has gone up and been taken down outside a restaurant space on the 1300 block of Milwaukee Avenue once pegged for Sushi Plus. Though the space has laid dormant for much of the pandemic, Chicago restaurant operator Jason Chooi and marketing manager Duo Tang have a new plan in motion.
Tang is poised to open the first location of Shabu Plus, a sister spot serving shabu-shabu, a style of Japanese hot pot, by late February at 1352 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The vast genre of hot pot never goes out of style, but in recent years, Chicago has seen a marked influx in restaurants that specialize in a wide range of regional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean varieties. There are also numerous spots serving shabu-shabu around town, but the rotary component — also seen at Friends Station on the Near North Side — is much harder to find.
The proliferation of rotary sushi across the U.S. means that many diners will likely recognize the approach at Shabu Plus: each patron gets their own personal hot pot with a choice of Japanese broth and then proceeds to pluck their chosen ingredients — vegetables, tofu, or small pieces of meat — off the moving belt as it cruises past. Tang promises more than 50 choices on the rotary, as well as pre-set packages of premiere ingredients such as Berkshire pork, wagyu beef, and free-range chicken.
Shabu-shabu — so named for the “swish swish” sound of diners stirring ingredients in broth — is a savory affair, but Chooi and his team plan to present sweet surprises: most notably, a dessert they call “boba milk tea hot pot.” Staff will present patrons with a pot filled with glistening boba pearls, fruit jellies, adzuki bean paste, and more, and then top it off with steaming milk tea. There’s good news for patrons who can’t wait for Shabu Plus’ opening, as the treat is currently available at Sushi Plus in Chinatown.
Colorful and quirky thematic decor (think miniature bullet trains and race cars), a signature of Sushi Plus, will also appear in the new restaurant. Chooi has again tapped Dearborn Architects, the same design firm that developed the sushi spots, but Tang says that even he doesn’t know what those elements will be. “We told them to surprise us!” he says.
Following the debut in Wicker Park, Chooi has secured leases for a series of Shabu Plus locations at 131 S. Archer Avenue in Chinatown, 611 S. Wells Street in the South Loop, and 4430 Fox Valley Center Drive in suburban Aurora. The latter currently operates as Sushi Plus, but that restaurant is set to relocate to Naperville to make way for the hot pot mini-chain.
Shabu Plus Wicker Park, 1352 N. Milwaukee Avenue, scheduled to open by late February.