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Brian Mita, renowned chef and co-owner of Izakaya Mita, dead at 43

Brian Mita shared his struggles with being diagnosed with colon cancer to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chef Brian Mita greets customers at the door of his restaurant Izakaya Mita in Bucktown on Oct. 9, 2021.
Chef Brian Mita greets customers at the door of his restaurant Izakaya Mita in Bucktown on Oct. 9, 2021.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Brian Mita, renowned chef and co-owner of Bucktown’s Izakaya Mita, died over the weekend after a two-and-a-half year bout with colon cancer, his family announced.

“His bravery, positivity and drive for life in the face of cancer was an inspiration to everyone who knew him,” his brother Steve Mita said in a Facebook post. “He was surrounded by family and friends in his final weeks.”

He was 43.

Brian Mita opened his family restaurant with his mother, Helen Mita, in 2014 in honor of his late father Shiyouji, who worked at restaurants for most of his life. Izakaya Mita, a Japanese pub known for its extensive sake collection, was closed for nearly 19 months due to the coronavirus pandemic before reopening its doors in October, according to Eater.

“He was also able to proudly reopen Izakaya Mita this October, rounding out a dream of his and a legacy for his family,” Steve Mita said.

Izakaya Mita was one of the first Japanese tapas spots to open in Chicago, which Brian Mita called “Japanese soul cooking.”

Brian Mita’s battle with cancer was well known with Steve Mita kicking off a GoFundMe to help cover costs. They were able to raise $25,461 of their $25,000 goal.

Last month, Brian Mita spoke with the Sun-Times about his struggles with cancer and the emotional toll it had taken on him. He learned he had stage 3 colon cancer in June 2019 and his only warning sign was constipation — something he initially chalked up to being stressed.

“Unfortunately, I went into stage 4 when the pandemic first hit,” Brian Mita said. “It’s kind of been difficult because I actually have a very, very aggressive mutation.”

But he felt a sense of optimism when he was given a “brand-new, state-of-the-art medicine” that had him symptom-free for six months. The medicine helped protect his body from the harsh side effects when he underwent additional chemotherapy treatment.

He said he felt good and that his “soul is prepared” for what was to come. Brian Mita said he had lost two people to cancer since his diagnosis, and he was inspired by their courage.

“If cancer is part of the human condition, caring for other people is also part of the human condition,” Brian Mita said in tears. “It shouldn’t happen to anybody, but it does.”

His memorial service will be held at Izakaya Mita at 2 p.m. Dec. 12.

Chef Brian Mita, right, and his mother, Helen, in the kitchen of their restaurant Izakaya Mita in Bucktown on Oct. 9, 2021.
Chef Brian Mita, right, and his mother, Helen, in the kitchen of their restaurant Izakaya Mita in Bucktown on Oct. 9, 2021.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times