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May 2015

Behind The Food: Historic Kamehachi in Old Town


Located in the historic neighborhood of Old Town in Chicago is a sushi restaurant that is as historic as the neighborhood in which is resides. Kamehachi was previously our Old Town & Gold Coast tour, both for its amazing sushi and the long history and tradition behind it.

Chicago’s First Sushi Bar

What makes Kamehachi so historic, is the fact that it was the first of its kind in the city of Chicago. While other Japanese restaurants existed in the city it was Kamehachi who introduced the “sushi bar” concept to Chicago in 1967. Up until then the intimate experience of watching a chef prepare the sushi, a centuries old tradition, just didn’t exist in Chicago.


The Original Location

Kamehachi as it stands today isn’t the original location from 1967. Originally it was around 1.5 blocks north from the current spot. It was situated across the street from The Second City comedy club. The location naturally became a spot where many locals and celebrities had their first sushi experience. Their current Old Town location was opened in November of 2011.

The History Behind Kamehachi’s Chicago Location

We take a few steps back here, to discuss a bit of the history behind how Kamehachi ended up opening in Chicago in the first place. Immediately following WWII, in 1944, Chicago saw a large influx of Japanese citizens to the area including, Marion Konishi, founder of Kamehachi.

During WWII many Japanese residents of the West Coast of the United States were interred in what were known as “War Relocation Camps,” despite the fact that the majority of them were American citizens. Founder Marion was among those interred in a camp in Arizona, even though she had been born in California to Japanese parents who had emigrated to the United states in the late 1800’s. While interred she also gave birth to her daughter, Sharon.

When Japanese citizens were released, many were afraid to remain on the West Coast and moved East, many ending up in Chicago. In fact, pre WWII Chicago’s Japanese population was at about 300, but after jumped to 30,000! With the growing Japanese population, there was a need for a place of religious worship. That need was filled in the early 1950’s when a building in Old Town was purchased and became the first Japanese Buddhist Temple and community center in the neighborhood.

That large community and Old Town’s Buddhist Template were several of the reason Marion chose to relocate to the Chicago neighborhood. When she opened among many Japanese-owned businesses, and in the midst of Hollywood performers at Second City (already into sushi from its popularity on the west coast), she found success right out of the gate.


Kamehachi Today

While no longer in it’s original location, Kamehachi remains an institution in Old Town, being run by Marion’s daughter Sharon and granddaughter Giulia. They continue to further Marion’s legacy, offering some of the highest-quality sushi and service in Chicago and have even expanded into locations in Northbrook, Streeterville, the Loop and River North.

Have you checked out Kamehachi yet? We highly recommend you do!

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