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Kevin Yu and Vanessa Vu Draw Inspiration From Their Culture & Heritage

Cover Image for Kevin Yu and Vanessa Vu Draw Inspiration From Their Culture & Heritage
By Eddie Carter
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Categories:Interviews

Designed by husband and wife team Kevin Yu and Vanessa Vu, Chicago’s 2d Restaurant is a monochrome comical illusion of Paris serving innovative Asian eats. Inspired by Vanessa’s passion for interior design and Kevin’s love of comics, 2d Restaurant was drawn to be a creative and interesting way to proudly represent the pair’s culinary heritage. More than a year in, 2d Restaurant has captivated both the eyes and stomachs of foodies and artists alike. We caught up with Kevin to talk about his inspiration, heritage, and what’s next for 2d Restaurant.

What was the creative process like in coming up with the interior design for the restaurant?

Yu: My wife, Vanessa Vu, is an interior designer who works with clients in the hospitality industry. She had the initial idea of combining her sketches and passion for interior design with my love of comics to build a restaurant. Together, our vision became to create a monochrome comical illusion that takes our guests on an immersive journey to different parts of the world. We created full scale 2D designs for Tokyo, Rome, Taipei, Egypt, and London, but eventually we settled on Paris because of Vanessa’s love for Parisian style. From there, we began planning, designing, and hand drawing the art in the restaurant, and the entire process took us two years to complete.

2d Restaurant depicts a sketched version of Paris.

What were some of the biggest inspirations for the art style you chose?

Yu: The inspiration for our art style comes from our favorite comic growing up in Asia called “Doraemon”. This comic is about a teenage boy who meets a robotic cat from the future named Doraemon who helps him overcome many obstacles by providing him with futuristic gadgets.

Both Vanessa and I grew up in Asia and moved to the U.S. when we were 16. We both wished we had a Doraemon to help us overcome the obstacles we faced as first generation immigrants, and we both still love the comic to this day.

 

“We want to continue exploring creative and delicious ways to proudly represent Asian culinary heritage.”

 

What personal or cultural influences have inspired your menu? 

Yu: Our personal stories and culture greatly influence our menu.  Vanessa was born in Vietnam and is an excellent Vietnamese chef. Because of that, we chose the Phin dripper, a Vietnamese style coffee dripper, as our brewing staple. To our knowledge, we are the only coffee shop in the U.S. where 100% of our brewed coffee comes from the Phin dripper. This was not an easy decision because we had to improvise and create our very own brewing process. We will continue to represent and showcase our culture by improving upon our Phin dripper coffee brewing process every day. 

I was born in Taiwan and love flavors from all across Asia, and we wanted to show the best flavors Asia has to offer on our menu. For example, we use Korean citron in our coleslaw, Japanese yuzu in our fries, and a Taiwanese-style marinade in our fried chicken. At 2d Restaurant, we want to continue exploring creative and delicious ways to proudly represent our Asian culinary heritage.

Kevin finishing a cup of Phin-style coffee.

Before opening, did you anticipate this level of excitement surrounding the restaurant?

Yu: Since day one we have been honored and overwhelmed by the level of love, care, and excitement shown by our guests. Every inch of 2d Restaurant was hand-sketched and designed by my wife Vanessa, and she used to stay up until 4 a.m. every day perfecting our vision. We knew that we had something special in 2d Restaurant because of her talent and dedication, but we would never have anticipated this level of excitement when we opened our doors.

Looking back today, we have improved so much in providing a better guest experience, and I wish we had the chance to turn back time and correct a lot of the mistakes we made early on. However, we are proud of what we have accomplished and all the improvements we have made since day one, and we want to personally thank every guest who has visited 2d Restaurant and experienced these growing pains alongside us.

We are celebrating AAPI Heritage this month. What does your heritage mean to you?

Yu: My heritage has made me who I am today and I appreciate and treasure everyone who has helped guide me along the way.

Taiwan is one of Asia’s most democratic countries, and growing up there has helped me learn the importance of caring for my community. I learned to respect and care for others while working hard, and I want to foster a work environment at 2d Restaurant that is based on respect and appreciation.

What-the-Chicken sandwiches with mochi donut buns.

What’s next for 2d Restaurant?

Yu: We have received a lot of requests to expand 2d Restaurant to other parts of the country and even internationally. However, we want to enhance and perfect our guests’ experience in Chicago before expanding 2d Restaurant elsewhere. 

That being said, we are launching numerous food programs, including a plant-based chicken sandwich program called What-the-chicken and a first of its kind mochi breakfast program that uses mochi donuts as buns alongside different breakfast favorites.

We are also launching a new guest service training for our team members to increase efficiency and create an improved dining experience for our guests.

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