Ty Fujimura nails it every time with niche-oriented neighborhood spots.
By Julia Kramer|
After opening three locations of Small Bar—a neighborhood craft-beer hangout—and turning Lava Lounge into cocktail bar the Exchange, Fujimura and his brother Troy brought on sushi chef B.K. Park for Arami (1829 W Chicago Ave, 312-243-1535), a West Town Japanese restaurant with stunning food and a low-key atmosphere. Aside from demonstrating Fujimura’s versatility, Arami reflects a particular knack for opening niche, neighborhood concepts that hit squarely on the pulse.
Is there a particular size and scale you like in bars and restaurants? The stuff that we’ve done has been on the smaller side. One of the things that we go for with the design and the size of the restaurant—but also into the food and beverage program—is approachability…. There are times when you’re like, Ah, I wish we had 20 to 30 more seats so we can get everybody in. But I’d much rather take fewer people and guarantee that they have a wonderful time…. We love having people come in like, Oh, this is my birthday dinner, or this is my engagement dinner, or this is where I met my wife. Having those shared experiences is—at the end of the day—one of the main motivations in doing restaurants and hospitality.
Cooked Japanese food like you’re serving at Arami has taken longer to become popular compared to sushi. Why was it important to you to serve that type of food? The motivation was really two-fold: First it spawned from some of the things my brother and I grew up eating. We both grew up in Indiana, but our father is Japanese by way of Hawaii, so we were the family that—we had rice for every single meal, we’re making sukiyakis, we’re rolling up makis, but at the same time we’re having pot roasts and hamburgers on white bread and all that.… The other motivation was these are dishes that don’t really see a lot of air time on people’s menus.
When you think about all your bars and restaurants, is there a particular niche you feel you’re filling? People who are interested in trying something different but know that we’re not going to be pricing them out…. All these concepts are very niche-y: We like to think that we’re putting [craft cocktails, cooked Japanese food and boutique beers] out there in a way that a lot of people can feel comfortable trying it and not feel as if they’re gambling.