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Food & Drink

Popular noodle shop in downtown San Francisco to close next week

A bowl of tan tan udon made with ground beef
After more than six years of dishing out bowls of spicy tan tan noodles, Kagawa-Ya Udon on Market Street will close on Dec. 22. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

A 6-year-old, husband-and-wife Japanese fast-casual restaurant on San Francisco’s Market Street will close forever after lunch service on Dec. 22.

In an email to customers, owners Sean Lim and Katherine Chiao of Kagawa-Ya Udon called the decision to close the business a difficult one. They thanked the 250,000 patrons they’ve served over the years and teased the possibility of another project down the line.

“The dining landscape has changed so much since 2020 and our fast casual udon concept no longer thrives in this space,” Chiao wrote. “Sean and I will be taking some time off to re-conceptualize and hopefully come back stronger than ever!”

A sandwich board casts a shadow in the interior of a restaurant.
A sandwich board announced the last Ono Bakehouse pop-up at Kagawa-Ya on Friday. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Kagawa-Ya opened in spring 2017, serving Japanese specials like cold udon, tan tan noodles and chicken katsu sandwiches along with beer and wine, plus Hawaiian treats like spam musubi.

The Standard was initially able to confirm the closure date with an employee, who cited a drop in business since the pandemic, something that Chiao later echoed. The prolonged lack of foot traffic in Mid-Market was a huge blow.

"We tried opening for dinner, for breakfast, catering, capitalizing on the crowd that we do have, but our building is completely empty," she said. "In-house, we're still down about 56% since 2019."

While challenging street conditions and perceptions about public safety have frequently been cited as a factor in the loss of San Francisco small businesses—as well as in the case of Market Street’s much-publicized Whole Foods closure—nothing compares to the neighborhood's overall economic picture. Still, Kagawa-Ya developed a loyal following.

"If we didn’t have our regulars supporting us, there’s no way we would have made it past Covid," Chiao said. "Support your restaurants. They need the love!”

an exterior business sign hangs from an eave
Kagawa-Ya's name refers to a prefecture of Japan where the owners traveled. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Kagawa-Ya occupies a ground-floor space at 1455 Market St., a 23-story Brutalist building between 10th and 11th streets. Dough, a pizza-and-doughnuts operation, is next door, as was a former location of Mateo’s Taqueria. The best-known tenant, however, is the ride-share company Uber.

Udon is a thick style of noodle most often served in a soup. Unlike ramen, which is made with egg, it is vegan and frequently comes in a less assertive broth with more delicate toppings. In Japanese, “ya” means “shop,” and Kagawa refers to a small prefecture in Japan on the island of Shikoku, where Lim and Chiao traveled widely to perfect their version of udon.

A sandwich board inside the shop during a brisk lunch rush on Thursday advertised the final pop-up by Ono Bakehouse on Dec. 15.

As to what might come next, Chiao said she and Lim want to take some time off and work on another concept.

"Fast-casual will not work in a space like this anymore," she said. "Not fine dining, but right down the middle—like izakaya places. A lot of small bites, beer and wine. Definitely Japanese-influenced."

This story has been updated with additional comments from Kagawa-Ya co-owner Katherine Chiao.

Astrid Kane can be reached at astrid@sfstandard.com