After 11 years in the Uptown Oakland neighborhood, chef Kyle Itani will close his celebrated restaurant Hopscotch after Thursday, June 22. Itani calls the closure bittersweet, given that Hopscotch is his first restaurant — later followed by Itani Ramen and Yonsei Handrolls — but there are silver linings. Although the restaurant is closing, Itani says the food will live on as Hopscotch Catering, which he began during the pandemic.
In addition, Itani is excited about a new project in the works for the space, which he’s collaborating on with Low Bar owners (and former Hopscotch employees) Matt Meyer and Daniel Paez. “To me, that’s why it’s a win-win,” Itani says. “While Hopscotch is closing and ending its run, it will live on — in my head, at least — through former employees. Matt [Meyer] was my sous chef for seven years, so it’s great that I can set him up further to carry it forward — and so I’m pretty stoked about that.”
Itani says in the last two years, he’s worked to evolve the restaurant to meet the changed dining landscape. While Hopscotch traditionally served lunch, happy hour, dinner, and brunch on the weekends, the concept shifted as Itani tried to find a model that would resonate with customers. To simplify things, Itani tried an all-day menu before realizing the lunch crowds and foot traffic just weren’t there; the restaurant then moved to dinner only. While Itani says special events would pack in the crowds, he realized Hopscotch had evolved into a special occasion-type restaurant. In talking over the situation with friends and colleagues, Itani says he realized the space needed someone to bring enthusiasm and to really change the vibe by giving it a new style and concept. “I think this neighborhood, this block, this space, calls for some young vibrant energy,” he says.
Itani, at the age of 29, co-founded the restaurant in 2012 with Jenny Schwarz, and during Hopscotch’s time in Oakland, the restaurant and its Japanese-inspired, American diner food earned a number of accolades. The restaurant received a 3-star review in its first year from then-San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer, while the Chronicle also named Itani one of its 2013 Rising Star Chefs. The restaurant landed on favorite restaurant lists for Oakland and an appearance on Check, Please! Bay Area, thanks to a fan nomination. “In the grand scheme of restaurants, what a run,” Itani says.
Itani didn’t share many other details about the upcoming project but says the space will undergo some cosmetic changes before it reopens — hopefully, he says — by September. In the meantime, Hopscotch will continue hosting private events in its Annex through the end of July. As for Itani, he will be busy at his other restaurants, which are just up the street from Hopscotch, and he says he feels good about this big change. “It’s like the firstborn, almost,” Itani says. “In a way, this restaurant is going off to college, so there’s a little bit of empty nest syndrome, I think — I haven’t done that yet [with my children], but I could imagine that the feelings are similar.”