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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Bucktown Japanese Restaurant Izakaya Mita Closes 3 Months After Co-Owner’s Death

Brian Mita died in December after an extended period of illness with colon cancer. The restaurant's last dinner service was Friday.

Izakaya Mita, 1960 N. Damen Ave., in Bucktown.
Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
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BUCKTOWN — Bucktown Japanese restaurant and sake bar Izakaya Mita has closed, just three months after co-owner Brian Mita died from cancer.

Mita started the restaurant in 2014 with his mother, Helen Mita, as a tribute to his father, Shiyouji, who was a manager at a suburban Japanese steakhouse for years.

Izakaya Mita, 1960 N. Damen Ave., quickly became a neighborhood staple, offering what Brian Mita called “Japanese tapas,” including items such as yakitori and yaki soba.

For the past several years, Brian Mita fought an extended period of illness with colon cancer.

He was diagnosed in 2019 and almost immediately got surgery, his brother Steve Mita said in December.

But in summer 2020, the cancer metastasized from Stage 3 to Stage 4.

“I was on this really easy treatment for a while … but then the cancer started growing on me. So they switched me to a new one, which is … pretty gnarly,” Brian Mita told Block Club in October.

After Brian Mita’s death in early December, his family and staff pledged to keep the restaurant going.

“I still feel like these guys got the closest to bringing what izakaya really is to this area,” manager Brandon Ott said at the time. “And people love that.”

But last week, the restaurant closed.

“It is with heavy heart that we have to announce our closure this weekend,” the restaurant posted on Instagram.

Ultimately, the restaurant closed for financial reasons, Ott said Monday.

“This was simply trying to make a smart fiscal move here. You know, we just simply didn’t have the pre-pandemic numbers, of volume of people,” he said. “The financial burden was just too much to bear.”

The closure comes less than five months after Brian and Helen Mita reopened the restaurant after a 19-month pandemic hiatus in October.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions. I’m not really angry and I’m not really relieved and I’m not really heartbroken, I’m not really sad. It’s like this weird amalgam of all of those things,” Ott said.

The extended closure was almost a breaking point for the business, Helen Mita said in October.

“At the end of June, I was just gonna close,” she said. Her son talked her out of it. “He found money for us to keep it open.”

The Mitas applied for loans and grants through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which helped them stay afloat.

Reopening the restaurant became a huge priority for Brian Mita. He redid the interior decor, made menu changes and hired staff to prepare to welcome customers back.

“It’s just nice to be kind of identified with this neighborhood, and just be one of those neighborhoods spots that a lot of people don’t know about. [When] you come in our goal is for you to be like, ‘This place is the gem,’” Brian Mita said in October.

After news of its closure spread last week, customers packed the restaurant Friday night. Ott said it was “the most perfect service we’ve ever had at this establishment.”

“I saw this table talking to this table, people making new friends and people were laughing and obviously it was loud and it was raucous, but it felt like an izakaya. I could not think of a more poetic note for this place to close it’s doors.”

Ott said Helen Mita is working on a cookbook of recipes from Izakaya Mita, which could be out soon.

“I’d like people to keep their eyes open for that because there’s definitely going to be the telling of the story of Izakaya Mita, because the truth is it really did bring a really unique thing to Chicago,” he said.

Credit: Quinn Myers/Block Club Chicago
Helen and Brian Mita behind the bar at Izakaya Mita, 1960 N. Damen Ave. It reopened in October 2021 after a long hiatus.

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