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PinKU brings Japanese street food and Midwest hospitality to Northeast

The crab roll isn't on the menu, but is one of the surprises that regulars will encounter at the whim of the chef.

The crab roll isn't on the menu, but is one of the surprises that regulars will encounter at the whim of the chef.

Tokyo manages to squeeze more than 13 million people into a landmass equivalent to L.A. County. PinKU, a new restaurant focusing on Japanese street food, will channel that mindset, operating in a space that comes in at around 1,000 square feet.

But partners John Sugimura and Xiaoteng Huang don’t feel limited by their space constraints. It allows them to hone in on their vision for the restaurant. “We want to keep it simple and do it better than anyone we know,” says Huang. Their dual focus on authentic food (no fusion here) and heartfelt hospitality is the cornerstone of their new venture. “This is old school, food you would have eaten in my grandma’s kitchen circa 1925 Kumamoto, Japan,” says Sugimura.

The small space, next door to Keegan’s Irish Pub, will seat 36. There is no back of the house, and little storage or pantry space. The kitchen is “virtually a food truck installed indoors,” they joke. The menu will feature 10 items, priced from $4 to $6.50. Choices include pork dumplings, fried ramen, spicy tuna with crispy rice, and salmon fat roll. “We want people from the neighborhood to be able to come in a couple times a week, and families to eat good food at a reasonable price,” says Sugimura. The restaurant will serve beer, wine and sake.

Sugimura graduated from the Sushi Institute of America, and has spent the past six years as a private chef and cooking instructor. He estimates he’s fed 5,000 people in that time. It’s also how he and Huang met. “I just Googled ‘sushi classes’ and ended up at one of John’s,” he says. Although they come from different backgrounds, they found they shared a vision for how food can bring a community together.

They’ve been working on their concept for two years, searching for just the right space. Northeast Minneapolis seemed like a natural fit. “We wanted to be connected to a neighborhood,” says Sugimura, and the fact that Northeast plays a big role in the history of Minneapolis dovetails nicely with the focus on the history, culture, and heritage of Japan that is important to the partners.

The restaurant will open this summer; Huang and Sugimura are shooting for June 1.

Steam-fried pork dumplings with ginger garlic.

Steam-fried pork dumplings with ginger garlic.

PinKU

20 University Ave., Minneapolis

pinkujapanese.com