Umami: Chicago

Bringing the mystery of umami – the fifth taste – to life through design.

Everyone knows Umami Burger for their tasty burgers and tongue-in-cheek attitude. When they came to us for a new concept to unify the Umami brand, we suggested bringing the mystery of Umami to life. Originally a Japanese concept, the word umami means “deliciousness;” it’s used to describe a unique taste spectrum of sweet, sour, savory, and bitter.

Umami Burger interior design was inspired by time-honored Japanese design queues filtered through a modern, American lens. Traditional shoji screens are reimagined in metal with delicate cutouts for privacy that lets in light. We played with wooden elements, like slat panel treatments and thick hand-finished tables. We transformed the bar with the crackled ceramic treatment of a Japanese teapot.

Custom lanterns inspired by Ruth Asawa congregate over the community table, while the geometric ceiling detail subtly reflects to the art of origami. And the floor stencil pattern and banquette design were derivative of Sashiko embroidery textiles.

To retain Umami’s signature youthful edge, we added bright neon signs and updated the graffiti art with a new style of street art— décollage. This technique, made popular by artists François Dufrene, Jacques Villeglé, and Raymond Hains involves layering posters one over another, then tearing away layers to reveal the various posters underneath. The poster art was custom designed in-house to subtly message the flavor profiles of Umami.

This unique design and 360-brand-thinking elevates a once casual dining experience to one that transports both the imagination and the palate.


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Type Restaurant
Status Completed
Size 2,700 SF
Site Urban Industrial
Budget $750,000
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