At this point in 2020 we’re sadly too familiar with restaurant closure news. Sometimes the news come in bursts. Others it drops with a thud. This is one of those moments. Salaryman is closed.
After barely a year of Justin Holt’s restaurant critic-beguiling and award-winning ramen, the Oak Cliff restaurant will not reopen. Holt was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in early October, according to his partner and Salaryman spokesperson Trina Nishimura. While the izakaya was not immune to the financial challenges of operating a restaurant in a pandemic, the decision is largely because of the chef’s health and his inability to be in the kitchen, to captain the ship he built last year.
Holt and Nishimura received the news “after many months of seeking a diagnosis for a myriad of symptoms,” she says. They were blindsided. But after an understandably rocky stretch of days in the hospital, Holt is on course with an aggressive treatment plan shepherded by “some really great doctors and an excellent team.”
There is no knowing if Salaryman will make a comeback—and that’s hardly the main consideration now. We’re thinking of Holt’s swift recovery. The two have set up a GoFundMe to help with immediate medical expenses. (In anticipation of substantial hospital bills, a larger benefit is being organized for early next year.) They’re hoping that anyone who has delighted in charcoal-kissed chicken skewers or shio-seasoned noodle broth feels compelled to support the chef in this difficult chapter.
While we’re glad to know Holt will fight this out, let us pour one out for the short-lived noodle and izakaya shop. The Oak Cliff restaurant was an immediate hit. Of course it had built a loyal following from its pop-up days, which you could often find Holt spooning ramen late into the evening at bars around the neighborhood. It landed on many local “best” lists, including D Magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2019.
D restaurant critic and Salaryman fan Eve Hill-Agnus wrote, “To enter Salaryman is to enter something like a Tokyo late-night izakaya, but firmly located here, not a re-creation of Tokyo but a reminder of it.” Such was the food, too, which respected Japanese tradition through a Texas lens. “Creamy paitan ramen—the noodles fashioned from Texas-grown yecora rojo wheat—has chashu, savory as smoked ham, and a slick rich as brown butter; gossamer chintan broth is fragrant with lemon oil and tender poached chicken.”
Nationally, Holt and his crew received a well-earned semifinalist nod for Best New Restaurant from this year’s James Beard Awards (which never happened, because 2020, so we’ll never know).
Holt is a talented chef who—while the accolades are well-deserved—cares most about the craft of cooking and his team, which helps him push Dallas’ dining scene forward. As Nishimura puts it, “The shop is just bricks… the talent, drive, work, and soul of the shop is Justin.”
We look forward to eating among you and the beautiful food you make again soon, chef.