Kobe Japanese Steakhouse shuts doors after 20 years

A mainstay eatery has shut its doors in Jeffersonville.

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, located in the city’s “restaurant row” along the Ohio River, ceased operations at the Indiana Avenue location for good this week. Jeffersonville is often thought of as a blossoming community, with amenities like the Big Four Bridge and the resurgence of downtown breathing new life into the core.

But owner Dee Morabito has been there since long before the city began to take new form. Roughly 20 years ago, she decided to leave the salon business to build a new life for herself as a restaurateur, serving countless hungry Hoosiers in the decades since.

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Her daugher, Emily Ngo, was the one to break the news of the closure on Facebook earlier this week. Ngo joked that her mother’s drive and passion was cloaked by her small stature.

“My mom definitely has a lot more strength than you’d expect,” Ngo said. “She’s a small, petite woman. Just because she’s small doesn’t mean she doesn’t get things done. She was able to push back [against roadblocks]… From that beauty salon background, she became an overall great business woman.”

Though the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused a great deal of economic woes for local residents and businesses, the timing of the closure was merely a coincidence. Ngo said that the main driver was the end of the lease on the space.

“When our lease was up, [the owners] didn’t want to renew it,” Ngo said. “My mom thought we could convince them. Ultimately, we couldn’t do it. It just so happened to be during the pandemic. It’s an odd time, but it is what it is.”

Morabito had been considering working about five more years, with thoughts of potentially selling the restaurant at that point. That plan was accelerated a bit by the closure.

Ngo said that her mother is welcoming the long-awaited break with open arms. But the family isn’t ruling out a second life at some point down the road.

One possibility that has bounced around is opening a smaller restaurant in New Albany or Charlestown after a break of a few years.

“She’s definitely just resting and playing it by ear to see if she wants to go back,” Ngo said. “I feel like she might. She’s a go-getter. After 20 years at the restaurant, she’s used to that fast pace. She’s glad to get the rest, but she’s sad to see it go.”

In the meantime, the family is thinking of all of those who have spent time at the restaurant over the years. Relationships were built with longtime customers and employees alike, with Ngo having spent much of her life growing up in the business.

“I know my mom really will miss the restaurant and the great memories with our long-standing customers — who come every Christmas, holiday and birthday — and all the chefs,” Ngo said. “I grew up in that restaurant, and I grew close with the chefs and the servers. I hope they do well, and that our customers will look out for us if we do open a new restaurant.”

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