When Chef Katsutoshi “Katsu” Machida and his wife, Chiemi Machida, moved into their Clinton Hill apartment sixteen years ago, they had no idea that they’d one day open up a restaurant in the space below.
The pandemic, the end for so many businesses, was actually what gave the Machida’s their chance. The restaurant previously in the space below their apartment, New Hong Cheong Chinese Restaurant, was forced to close, and the landlord, knowing that the pair wanted to open a restaurant, asked if they’d be interested in taking over the lease. They jumped at the chance and started raising money on Kickstarter to make it happen.
Katsutoshi worked as a kaiseki or Japanese seafood chef in professional kitchens for many years and opened his first pop-up three years ago at Williamsburg’s Smorgasburg. Since then, he and his wife ran pop-up service in DUMBO and out of other establishments, hoping to one day open their own restaurant.
“This has been a dream of ours for years, and it is both exciting and humbling to have arrived at this moment, poised to make it a reality, with your help,” the couple wrote on the campaign’s page.
They surpassed their goal of $50,000, mostly with donations from friends, family, and people living in the Clinton Hill neighborhood and opened Chef Katsu at 143 Greene Avenue on March 15th.
Alice Hiraga, Chef Katsu’s general manager, met the couple when they were working in her home neighborhood of DUMBO. After she tried the food, she started going twice a week to the stand.
“I was thinking [about] how I miss Japanese food, since I feel like it’s really hard to get good Japanese food in my neighborhood. I happened to pass by and I had their food. I remember I just cried when I had my first bite,” Hiraga said.
When Hiraga first joined the team, she says that they didn’t have a website, and only had 400 followers on Instagram. Thanks to her professional social media expertise, they now have over 3,000.
“They remind me of my parents. My family owns a Japanese restaurant back in Hawaii. Seeing them hit home for me, and I really wanted to help them,” Hiraga said.
Chef Katsu’s menu is best known for their katsu burgers, a favorite from their pop-up days. They’ve got a pork katsu, chicken katsu, salmon katsu, and portobello katsu (the Chef’s personal favorite) version of the dish. New to the brick and mortar location are the rice bowls, with the chicken teriyaki emerging as a neighborhood favorite already.
The neighborhood support has poured out, Hiraga says, evident also from the numerous supportive comments all over the restaurant’s Instagram.
“Am so excited about this new addition to the neighborhood! I’ll be a regular when you open up, take your time!” one person wrote. “Looking forward to dropping in,” said another.
“The customers are mostly the neighbors but everybody is so understanding,” Hiraga said. “We already have a few regulars. We’ve only been open for three weeks but there’s people that come in every other day.”
The restaurant is still technically in its soft opening phase, and closed Mondays and Tuesdays. In the future, they hope to leave Tuesdays closed for fixed menu private dinners, cooking classes, or private parties to be held at the space. A liquor license is also on the horizon, hopefully by this Summer.
“Katsu thinks a burger and beer is the best combo. He can’t stop talking about it,” Hiraga said with a laugh.
You can visit Chef Katsu at 143 Greene Avenue, between Waverly and Washington Avenues, from 11:30 am-8:00 pm, Wednesday-Sunday.