Asian taken out: Sushi KITA, Taste of Thai being forced to close to make room for mall remodel, new restaurant

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The irony was delicious – and not. A sushi making class at a first-ever Longyearbyen food festival to celebrate the town’s growing culinary culture this month was one of the final moments for Sushi KITA because it and Taste of Thai – the town’s only other Asian eatery – are being forced to close in a few weeks.

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Customers order food at the counter of Taste of Thai, which is closing later this month after five years in business. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The adjoining restaurants in Lompensenteret were told they’re being evicted when their contracts expire this month to make room for an unspecified restaurant scheduled to open next year after extensive remodeling of that portion of the shopping center.

Azusa Obo, Sushi KITA’s manager, said she received only 35 days’ advance notice about the decision. She said the restaurant will close Oct. 20, after which the Japan-based owner will consider the possibility of opening a simpler “Japanese lunch box” eatery (without sushi) in the industrial area near the shore.

The sushi-making class on Saturday evening, part of the SmakSvalbard festival, attracted several groups of young and old enthusiats who said the restaurant’s influence won’t totally vanish when it closes.

“I think with her instructions I can replicate it at home,” said Rimante Hegland, one of the adult participants.

But Obo, who hired exclusively sushi chefs trained in Japan for the restaurant, told the class there was a certain irony about the lesson beyond the fact it was one of the last evenings there.

“Sushi is not something you make at home in Japan,” she said. “You go out to eat because you need special techniques.”

Taste of Thai, which opened in 2012, also received relatively short notice about the forced closure. Rung-Arun Sianglam, the restaurant’s manager, said there are no plans to try to relocate the restaurant elsewhere locally.

“A new kitchen is expensive, it’s not easy,” she said.

While the restaurant struggled at times, Sianglam said they were serving up to 150 customers on busy days.

The shopping center was purchased in 2013 by Amfi Drift AS, which manages more than 70 other shopping centers in Norway. It is planning to remodel the entire center section-by-section, with the portion with the two Asian restaurants scheduled to be finished by next summer.

A number of residents have expressed concerns the new restaurant will resort to common (and commercially successful) offerings at existing eateries such as burgers, pizza, grilled meat and fish. But Steve Daldorff Torgersen, whose local company owns the formal set-course restaurant Gruvelageret and which will be a half-owner in a new company launching the restaurant, said the concept for it has not been determined.