George Itoh, owner and chef of Ichigoh Ramen Lounge in Deep Ellum, died last Monday of a stroke he suffered on Sunday, sources close to the family say. He is survived by his wife Mie and daughters Emma and Reiya, who helped him run the restaurant. The family has been struggling to find both their and the restaurant’s footing as they grapple with a loss that represents a devastating blow for their family, the Asian restaurant scene, and the entire landscape of Dallas’ restaurant community.
Sources say that Itoh collapsed after service on Sunday evening. (Itoh had recently recovered from a previous stroke he suffered last year.)
His subtle jewel of a ramen shop was the product of a fierce devotion to craft that, in its two and a half years since its opening in November 2018, garnered a dedicated following. Itoh had managed an outpost of Ippudo in New York and left that juggernaut in 2016 and moved to Dallas soon thereafter, opening the gem that became a bastion of finesse.
I named it one of the 10 Best New Restaurants of 2019. “All the elements—soup, toppings, seasoning, and oil—get due respect,” I wrote. Which is an understatement. Everything Itoh did was perfectly crafted, simple, with an astounding complexity beneath, whether a limpid or a creamy broth, all buoyed by noodles he sourced from Sapporo. The bowls were a balm for anyone who admired classic ramen. They invited one to look at the shimmering depth of color. Catch the aroma. Linger. You didn’t want to slurp thoughtlessly. Nothing about Ichigoh was thoughtless. Each bowl was a repository of care. The layers, like the layers of attention Itoh built in, were tangible. I remember the first time I tried his apple- and burdock root-infused vegetable ramen, and knew what he was doing was something special. All the labor was discernible if you paid attention. We were lucky to have such crafting here.
He gained the admiration of fellow chefs for the obsessive, meticulous, reverent way he went about crafting a simple bowl, such that even a broth with a gossamer-light body and roundedness in the flavor spoke. He also added, as time went on, a pared-down list of appetizers, like beef tongue braised to tenderness, with simple garnishes.
Always, he would come out to talk when he had a moment, seeming to be surprised at a compliment, even if you knew you were not the first to compliment him. With his impish smile and hachimaki tied securely to his head, he had the talent of creating community.
Uncertainty always fluttered in his mind alongside commitment. The city may not “get it” whole-cloth. But a certain segment did get it, and that segment knew and understood the difference.
The last year had not been easy. He spoke about this. He had also spent numerous months recovering from a stroke that had left him partially and temporarily paralyzed. But he had rallied. He had returned with tenacity and a smaller staff. Customers drove down from Plano. Recently, the YouTube celebrity Mike Chen had highlighted Ichigoh and more business followed. He was again on the ascendency, and deservedly so.
It all comes as a blow.
“He never spoke ill of anyone. Which is hard to do in this industry,” says Jimmy Niwa of Niwa Japanese BBQ. “He was genuinely, truly, one of the best [people] I know.”
Niwa and Donny Sirisavath of Khao Noodle Shop spearheaded a GoFundMe, which has already raised more than $15,000 of its $20,000 goal.
Itoh’s wife and daughters have kept the restaurant open, with lightly modified hours initially, but then a resumption of normal service. For those wishing to support, Niwa and Sirisavath are also co-hosting a fundraising food event Wednesday, May 5 at Deep Ellum Art Company.
All to honor a fellow chef who plied his wares and extended his ethos in quiet ways, making this city better.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the restaurant has resumed normal service hours.