When COVID-19 broke through, medical authorities and experts struggled to unravel the ambiguity of the disease. As it started to spread throughout the world, it forced everyone’s life into halt. All 2020 planned reservations turned into restrictions. Even for the founders of 2D Restaurant, Vanessa Thanh Vu and Kevin Yu, their set honeymoon in Paris remained in Chicago.

Vanessa Thanh Vu and Kevin Yu, Founders of 2D Restaurant

Fusion of Interests

Amidst limitations, this did not constrain the creativity within award-winning designer Vanessa. Growing up in Hanoi during the French colonization era, Vanessa developed a passion for Parisian art. Infusing his husband’s favorite black-and-white comic style, the iconic design behind 2D Restaurant emerged. From this fusion of interests, this husband-and-wife duo planned, designed, and hand-drawn Paris on the walls of a humble establishment in Halsted. 

After 18 months, 2D Restaurant has become a reality.

If Vanessa has the design architecture covered, two-time Best of Chicago-winning chef Kevin took the lead with the menu. Bringing light to the unique flavors Asia has to offer, chef Kevin curated various cuisines from different parts of the continent like the Taiwanese fried chicken sandwiches, Japanese mochi donuts, Filipino Ube, and Vietnamese coffee. This exquisite relay of Asian bites, fine-tuned and enhanced, earned them a nomination for the Best of Chicago in 2022.

2D Restaurant has become a sensation during the season of cautious minglings. With people worn out from the lockdowns, the thought of the outside world has become more enticing which pulled more intrigued customers to the newly talk-of-the-town foodie place.

Fusion of Ideas

Their ideas and inspirations have now fired the engines for their business venture. The next step? A steady ride. In this case, the only reliable basis to achieve this would be through historical data from existing business establishments. However, 2D Restaurant is a fresh feat in the food industry. Not to mention that the pandemic, although slowly lifting, has forever changed the course of social interactions.

In this tight-rope situation, 2D Restaurant tried to introduce new menu items and promotions as an initial effort, but it was not enough.

“To address this, we diligently refined and fine-tuned our operations, incorporating daily feedback from customers,” they revealed. But this rigorous approach entailed improvements in many functions of the business including food presentation, customer engagement, and reservation management.

Thankfully, Vanessa and Kevin were not alone during these difficult times. Alongside the founders were core members who have been with 2D since the beginning, laying a strong support team for the restaurant. Moreover, they shared that the parents of both Vanessa and Kevin played a crucial role in 2D’s development, being invaluable mentors in offering expertise in management, business, design, and self-care.

“Throughout this journey, our key lesson was the importance of staying true to our business identity while closely aligning with customer desires,” they shared. They discovered that it was maintaining customer engagement with their unique, hand-drawn designs that mattered the most. Hence, the start of the renowned 2D Photo Tour idea that was launched 18 months after the grand opening.

Fusion of Ideals

Being resolute with the vision for the restaurant, the 2D team hopes for the business to grow with each challenge. But when asked what their proudest achievement was, they shared it was their engagements and contributions to the community.

“Through Kevin's leadership, the 2D team actively contributed to a multitude of charitable and [cultural] initiatives in our local community, supporting a range of worthy causes,” they quipped.

In 2022 alone, 2D supported organizations like Japanese Art Foundation of Chicago, PAWS Chicago, The Nora Project, and the Nettelhorst PTO; contributed to events like Corn Production, NPN Auction, and OneGoal; and has been involved in events supporting the Japanese Culture Center, Lurie Children's Pediatric & Adolescent HIV/AIDS Program, Annoyance Charity Raffle, Center on Halsted, and the Hirshberg Foundation.

These are just to name a few, and patrons can believe the list will surely keep going because 2D believes that “a business can set itself apart by prioritizing community-building and giving back.”

In technicality, 2D by definition can mean two-dimensional, superficial, or skin-deep. However, looking back, 2D Restaurant was everything but that. From the inspiration behind the restaurant’s design, to the carefully selected tapestry of food choices, to rising above the challenges and limitations—there was bravery and thoughtfulness in each action. So, when asked what their advice to future entrepreneurs would be, their answer was evident: “Strive to excel in your field, give it your all, find passion in your work, and don't be concerned about the fear of failure.”

Feb 2, 2024

More from 



View All

Join Our Newsletter and Get the Latest
and Greatest on Asian American Communities

Stay in the loop. No spam ever. Read our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.