Jesse Ito is the chef and owner of Royal Sushi and Izakaya, a celebrated Japanese restaurant that opened its doors to fish-loving Philadelphians in 2016 in Queen Village. Six years and a near-infinite number of takeout boxes later, Royal is still one of the most exciting places to eat dinner. Between its opening and now, though, much of the restaurant’s operations have shifted. Late-night hours were pared down, for example, and takeout is here to stay. Jesse himself has been through his own changes. In December of 2021, he came out publicly about his struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. To date, Jesse is nearly two years sober. He’s sharing his recovery story to empower others in the Philly restaurant industry and beyond it.
We meet on a bench in Rittenhouse Square on a Thursday in September. Iced coffee, black, for both of us. He’s in sunglasses and Nike high-tops, procrastinating in the sunshine before packing for a week-long trip to Paris. Here’s what we talked about.