On Jan. 24, Itsumono, a Japanese restaurant located in Seattle’s Historic Japantown, celebrated its grand opening. They had been softly opened since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, but finally removed their wooden boards outside and are currently accepting reservations for patrons.
Mike Vu and Hisato Kawaminami took over ownership of the restaurant space back in the fall of 2019, when the izakaya had been named Kaname. Eventually, they both decided to change the name of the restaurant to Itsumono, which is Japanese for “regular.” The transition was also accompanied by the beginning stages of the pandemic, which evidently hit the restaurant industry nationwide hard.
“It’s been a huge struggle, definitely … I’ve at least seen a lot of businesses closed down, with less traffic in the area,” Vu said. “As a business owner, we’ve never had to shut down like that through government mandate.”
Vu laid off employees to keep the restaurant afloat, and they also qualified for unemployment. Once restrictions loosened up, takeout orders became a lifeline for Itsumono. They chose not to opt into a delivery services app such as DoorDash or GrubHub due to high commission fees at the time. They depended on social media and neighborhood locals that frequented their business while indoor dining was restricted.
“We’re all different backgrounds of Asian. You know, from all the owners to all the employees that work at the restaurant,” Vu said. “I feel like we touch all parts of Asia. And a lot of that food is inspired by a lot of the food that we ate growing up.”
According to Vu, Itsumono’s grand opening also brings a new identity to their restaurant space as Seattle’s only mukokuseki – meaning “no nation,” to describe the space – gastro pub. One of their new signature dishes that is being offered is a crispy and savory tonkatsu tikka masala. In honor of the Lunar New Year, Itsumono also offerred a sweet White Rabbit cocktail. Vu encourages his team to bring out their own creativity and concepts in the menu offerings.
Initially, one of the reasons Vu had been drawn into acquiring the restaurant was the interior space, which is built with natural wood. He also had worked at Kaname after working at several local restaurants in the community. Previously, booths had been located in the back of the restaurant, but Vu chose to move those towards the front and also doubled the bar size.
“I feel like a lot of people like the atmosphere, they like the vibe, I feel that the wood aesthetic kind of gives you a very natural feel away from the urban setting that you generally will see outside,” Vu added.
Paul Murakami is the building’s third-generation owner, which was built by his grandfather in the late 1930s. When his family was incarcerated during World War II, two of their Jewish tenants that were running a pawn shop watched the building until their family came back. Itsumono also has an original photo of the Murakami’s luggage that they had used when they were forcibly removed from their community.
“Paul is actually a really good supporter, he actually helped us a lot during the pandemic giving us rent breaks, “Vu said. “Whenever there was something going on, he would try to be there. And I would say it’s a very rare landlord to have in the city.”
“We did our grand opening last weekend that was very successful. It’s really nice to see that a lot of people in the neighborhood care about us and want to see us be successful,” Vu said. “After boarding it up and then taking off the boards. It’s like our restaurant was like a butterfly, we’re finally ready to show everybody in the neighborhood and the rest of Seattle what we have to offer … the service, the food, the culture.”
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.