Hutong Cafe (Oak Park, Ill.): An architecture group imbues a fast and casual Asian eatery with a spunky, youthful spirit

Oak Park’s Hutong Cafe, a fast-casual, pan-Asian eatery, was designed as an affordable and informal alternative to its sister restaurant, Sushi House.  Photo by Tony Soluri

Oak Park’s lovely and well established Sushi House now has a cute baby sibling down the block.

Where the more upscale Sushi House is reserved and refined, the fast-casual, pan-Asian Hutong Cafe was intended to be bright, cheerful and a lot of fun.

Oak Park’s Aria Group Architects designed the sister restaurants for owners Bob and Diana Johnson.  Diana’s brother, Simon Wang, also co-owns the café.

Sushi House (pictured) offers a more  upscale environment than Hutong; both restaurants were designed by Aria Group Architects.  Photo by Mark Ballogg

“We wanted [Hutong] to be more affordable, approachable and a bit younger,” says Aria president Jim Lencioni.

Open and bright, the 74-seat eatery is divided into small zones, each with its own individual character.

Up front, there is a handful of tables and chairs, as well as a terrific channel-back upholstered banquette.  Covered in a series of assorted Asian-inspired red, orange, gold and neutral floral fabrics, the banquette’s back resembles a quilt made from beautiful Japanese kimonos.

In back, there’s another stretch of banquette along with a sequence of booths, both of which also feature the colorful channel-back seating.  The booths are enclosed in funky, rough-hewn wooden structures.

Aria used natural materials throughout to create an enduring and approachable space, says firm president Jim Lencioni.  Photo by Tony Soluri

“By adding separation and definition between the booths — and the booths and banquettes — it added scale and created spaces within spaces,” Lencioni says.

The architecture team focused on using natural materials throughout.  “Natural materials are more enduring, less trendy, and they make [the space] more approachable,” Lencioni says.

In addition to the booth structures, spaced and angled raw wood beams create a demarcation between the dining room and the ordering line.  Honey-colored wood tables are paired with simple, contrasting dark wood chairs.  Floors are black polished concrete.

Aria added Asian touches without making the café read “literal Chinatown,” Lencioni says.

Slate gray and rich cranberry red (which boldly covers the open ceiling), were therefore selected as the restaurant’s main colors.

A giant gold line drawing of Hutong’s mascot — a pigtailed Asian girl greedily slurping from a bowl — fills the eatery’s slate-gray front wall.

Playful fixtures, such as these “origami” pendants, provide ambient light, which gives the eatery a casual tone.  Photo by Alex Janowski

“We wanted this place to be fun, and the [little girl] helped bring the fun into the concept,” Lencioni says.

Ambient lighting gives the room a casual, informal tone, and was used throughout.  Up front, the team placed a collection of whimsical white “origami” pendants, while simple contemporary globe fixtures hang over the booths and ordering counter.

Lining the eatery’s west wall, a series of large colorful boards lists menu items.  The boards also feature food photography as well as a large black-and-white vintage snapshot of a typical hutong, or neighborhood, in Beijing, China.  Functionally, the boards guide guests from the door to the counter.  But “they became part of the décor as well as part of the ordering process.”

Says Lencioni:   “It’s all the little details that help pull it together and make it work.”

Hutong Cafe
1113 Lake Street
Oak Park, Illinois  60301

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2 Responses to Hutong Cafe (Oak Park, Ill.): An architecture group imbues a fast and casual Asian eatery with a spunky, youthful spirit

  1. Christine Baumbach says:

    I am a huge fan of Aria Group Architects. They always come up with fresh ideas that make the dining experience unique and a feast for the eyes.

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