When Penny Mohr immigrated to the United States in 2011, she knew she wanted to be in a kitchen.
Her cousin had recently opened several Japanese restaurants in Chicago, so she got to work helping him and learning every possible job – server, host, cook, dishwasher, manager and, 11 years later, owner.
Penny and her husband, Chris Mohr, opened Tomo Japanese Street Food in Evanston on April 19, with a line stretching down Sherman Avenue. They have been perfecting their ramen recipe through the years, beginning at the Forum55 Food Hall in Chicago in 2018. Due to COVID-19, the food hall shut down, and the Mohrs made the decision to open their own place.
Penny Mohr, who is Thai, says her second-favorite food (Thai being first, of course) is Japanese. She has been cooking different kinds of Asian cuisine since she was 11 years old, but she said she’s always been drawn to Japanese culture and food. After she and Chris took a trip to Japan prior to the pandemic, they both agreed they wanted to create a restaurant similar to the Japanese street food they enjoyed while abroad.
“We just wanted to have something more casual, just a place to come and get your ramen and watch Power Rangers or anime,” Chris Mohr said.
When deciding to open up Tomo at 1726 Shermann Ave., Chris said he and Penny closely watched the foot traffic in the Evanston restaurant scene. They struggled to find a casual to-go place near Northwestern University that was open after 7 p.m., so they decided they would rent the empty spot on Sherman Avenue next door to Kilwins and tap into the Northwestern student audience.
Chris said Tomo hopes to get a liquor license and host karaoke as well. The menu will be expanding as they hire and train more employees, as will the hours, which are currently 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. but change to 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. beginning on May 1.
They say their karaage curry rice (a curry rice bowl topped with fried chicken), lava takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings topped with spicy mayo and masago) and curry udon (udon noodles with homemade beef curry) have been among the most popular menu items.
While summer is fast approaching, Penny Mohr said she’s sure their house-made ramen will take over as the most popular item when temperatures drop in the fall.
Even though there is still more work to do, Penny Mohr said her lifelong dream of opening up her own restaurant feels a bit less stressful now.
“It’s not easy to work in a restaurant and I was stressed with this location,” she said. “After the first day and all of the people that came, I have no stress.”