Our History

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His residence has a new address, and his business has a new address, but Maximilian Pak feels like he has come home.

Pak just opened Starfish, a sushi restaurant at 185 Milwaukee Avenue in the Village Green shopping center, resurrecting the name that he and a group of partners used to open their first place 18 years ago at Randolph and Halsted on Chicago's Near West Side.

The group took their concept to the suburbs and opened seven more restaurants, all with different names —but Pak split from them, moved to Vernon Hills and created a venture of his own, named after his beginning point.

"That's what I've come to realize," Pak said of the full-circle feeling his new restaurant gives him. "We started with Starfish, and now I've come back to Starfish."

The new edition is a complete gutting and overhauling of the 5,000-square-foot corner location's last tenant, the Robert Vance, Ltd., clothing store. Beginning in December, Pak brought in granite and brick for facades, exposed and painted the ceiling, turned a storeroom into a kitchen and brought in enough seating for 147. His bar offers a full range of alcohol —including hot saki, the Japanese rice wine —and he is pursuing a patio permit from Village Hall.

"It wasn't easy," he said of the renovation. "I had to put in all-new plumbing, practically do a whole demolition."

Now, Starfish offers a full range of sushi — Pak is the sushi chef, and can explain how the Japanese style goes beyond raw fish. It also offers New York strip steaks, filet mignon, chicken breast and more, prepared by kitchen chef Dong Soo Kim. They currently employ a staff of 14, but expect to have 35 or 36 soon.

"This is all I know," said Pak, a 33-year veteran of restaurants. "I love making food. I love when a customer is so happy."

Pak moved into ownership in 1997 with a collection of partners, who set up the original Starfish in an area that had several Italian neighbors. Pak said the Japanese stye began primarily as a street food, with customers dropping into a hut and picking up a snack to go. He said the group's sushi competitors had stayed true to that simple root, but that he wanted something bigger.

"Most Japanese restaurants were small, they didn't have bars, you just served hot sake, a couple of wines and pop," he recalled. "I saw these Italian restaurants with full bars and lounges. I wanted to provide that feel.

"And, bring the downtown feel to the suburbs," Pak added.

He has since moved to a new residence in Vernon Hills, to stay close to the new project. And with the second Starfish now operational, Pak said it is easier to relax these days.

"Relieved," he said of his mindset. "Now I feel complete."