In 2013 the Lins had a plan for the historic building at 1433 Union. Then the people spoke.
The restaurateur couple had every intention to tear down the beautiful beaux arts/colonial revival mansion that once housed the philanthropic women's group the Nineteenth Century Club when they bought it at auction, but after protests and legal cases, they listened.
"They held numerous talks on what to do that was best for the city and decided to keep the building and renovate it and turn it into a fine dining steakhouse," says the Lins' manager, John Lee.
A fine choice they made, indeed.
The Lins turned the 16,000-square-foot building into arguably one of the most beautiful eateries in town — Izakaya.
With a double cantilever grand staircase, a wall of stained glass, ornate fireplaces in every room, coffered ceilings, elaborate molding, and mahogany as the primary wood species throughout, Izakaya is a grand dame that will turn heads again and again.
The Lins, who also run two Redfish Sushi Asian Bistros, New Hunan, and Kublai Khan, brought in Looney Ricks Kiss to help design the renovation project and Archer Custom Builders as general contractor.
"Our contractor [Hans Bauer] said you can not replicate this building," Lee says. "We tried to keep everything as original as possible."
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The downstairs is divided into various dining rooms, each guided by the original design work, with a sushi bar in the main dining room and a small bar in the back. The second floor offers a large bar that flanks the entire north half with room for live music on the east end, as well as multiple private lounge rooms along the south.
They put to use the built-in shelving system, turning them into lockers for a wine locker program, in which clients pay an annual fee for the restaurant to house 10 bottles of fine wine for them at a discounted purchase price and for access to special VIP wine-tasting events.
There is a conference room available, and the building comes ready-made with a large front porch prepped for a patio come spring.
Izakaya's chef, Minh Nguyen, who is known for serving as executive sushi chef at the popular sushi joint, Rain, in Cordova, as well as cooking at YaYa's in Little Rock, has created a menu to match the building's grandeur.
"We have an exclusive sushi menu that no one else offers in town," Shon Lin says.
Fatty tuna, blue marlin, sea urchin, and multiple varieties of caviar are a few of the more specialty types of fish that will show up on the menu.
As it is a steakhouse, their eight-ounce filet mignon clocks in at $60 and their 24-ounce porterhouse steak is $65. All steaks are Japanese Wagyu beef.
They offer rack of lamb ($45), surf and turf and king and turf (market price), several pasta dishes, and pan-roasted sea bass with jumbo lump crab, edamame pods, sweet pepper, roasted garlic, and shallots in a citrus beurre blanc ($42).
A la carte items include lobster risotto ($12), Tabasco onion rings ($5), and three-cheese mac and cheese ($8), and the dessert menu is a long list of Tuxedo Creme Brûlée, Classic Napoleon, and Sorbet Trio.
The wine list boasts 106 wines, and in the large upstairs bar, patrons can't mistake the centerpiece behind the bar — a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac.
"It is world-known," Lee says. "It is one of the most exclusive Cognacs in the world. When you order a shot, it comes with table-side service in white gloves. No one can touch it."
All in all, the Lins spent $4.8 million on the building, including the $500,000 purchase price.
"We were about $1.2 million over budget," Lee says.
Izakaya, open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 to 1 a.m. 1433 Union, 454-3926, izakayamemphis.com.