Chef Donald Chang

Despite the longevity and popularity of anchors such as Pondicheri and Tootsies, Gables West Ave, the mixed use development at Kirby and Westheimer, has developed a troubling reputation for being unable to hold on to its restaurant tenants. The latest loss: Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen, which is closing on January 31 after only 15 months in business.

Since opening in 2009, the seven-story development that features two levels for retail and restaurant space capped by five floors of apartments has lost a stunning amount of talent: Ava Brasserie and Alto Pizzeria, both from chef Robert Del Grande; celebrity chef Susie Jimenez's first Houston restaurant, Trenza; popular brunch spot Saint Genevieve; and Katsuya by Starck from LA-based sushi chef Katusya Uechi, who opened his restaurant in the space that currently houses Nara.

Chef Donald Chang opened Nara in November 2013 as the first Korean fusion restaurant in the Loop, offering the sushi that earned him such acclaim at Uptown Sushi blended with Korean favorites from his childhood. Nara was received with acclaim from critics and the crowds that kept the place busy each night—though the acclaim was sometimes mixed and the crowds often had a hard time finding the restaurant, tucked as it was in the rear of the giant development.

A new grill room was part of the $100,000 renovation.

Image: Mai Pham

To this end, Nara had recently completed a $100,000 remodel of the space (as well as the menu) to make it more accessible for guests. As a capstone to this revamp, Chang asked his landlord at West Ave for some additional signage along Kirby Ave. and valet parking for guests who didn't want to make the hike to the parking garage. Chang says that Gables West Ave responded with silence at first, then an eviction notice. (Ed. note: The original post referred to Transwestern as Chang's landlord; Gables West Ave is the landlord, while Transwestern is the leasing agent. We regret the error.)

"I just don’t understand what the disconnect is," said Chang in a press release issued today. "Unfortunately we just can’t continue investing more and more money in a place that’s not investing in us."

Chang has promised to open again in another Inner Loop location, though he'll undoubtedly put his all into Nara's final days. "It’s disappointing because I loved the concept, loved the restaurant, gave it my all," he said. "I poured my heart and soul into it."

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