On busy New Byhalia Road in Collierville, there's a typical shopping center with a Target, a Schnucks, and various other businesses. In the corner space is Lee Kan's Asian Grill, a Chinese restaurant which appears to be as ordinary as its environs.
Look closer, however, and Lee Kan's Asian Grill is much more. Kan and her husband, Simon Huang, opened the 4,500-square-foot restaurant in October. Since then, business has been steady, and it keeps picking up.
"When they first come in, they think we're a regular Chinese restaurant," Kan says. "Then they see our presentation and how we prepare our food, and they're surprised."
For one thing, Lee Kan's is not simply an Asian grill. The food is nontraditional, mixing and matching cooking techniques from different Asian countries. Many of the dishes have American and European influences as well.
Two of Kan's favorite examples of this are the grilled jumbo shrimp and scallops and the pan-seared sea bass. Both are prepared with an Asian/French soy/beurre-blanc sauce, or a white wine sauce mixed with soy.
"It tastes clean from the white wine," Kan says. "Then you can taste the Asian influence, and it's like, 'Is that soy sauce or what?' People guess and try to figure out what it is."
The presentation of the dishes is also unconventional.
"The French influence is not only about the taste but also the presentation of the food. It's always so gorgeous," Kan says. "It's interesting to take a Chinese dish and add a French sauce or to present it in a way the French would."
Another dish that Kan's customers appreciate is "Fried Rice for the Brazen Fool," a medley of Asian dry red pepper, Thai pepper, jalapeno pepper, red pepper, and bell pepper with sweet onions, carrots, and egg. It's very hot. "People order that, and we look at them and ask, 'Are you crazy?'" Kan says.
The range of foods extends to the children's menu, which features both grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce and macaroni and cheese. A nice touch to the children's menu is the inclusion of instructions for making an origami swan.
Kan got much of her inspiration for cooking while traveling.
"Because I traveled around, I saw many other different countries' food," Kan says. "I always thought about how to arrange it differently and make it fun and not just traditional Chinese food."
Kan is from the Chinese city of Canton. Her family moved to Memphis when she was 17 years old to join an uncle who lived here. Growing up, she helped out in the family kitchen. During the summer, she worked as a waitress in Chinese restaurants, learning about the restaurant business.
Kan and Huang also own the Hunan Gourmet Buffet on Germantown Road in Bartlett.
The main room of Lee Kan's has a large fish tank. The restaurant walls showcase original artwork, including paintings by Memphis artist Billy Price Carroll and Collierville artist Rene Platten. One of those paintings features Kan and her daughter, Vivian.
Huang and Kan also have an 8-year-old son, Kevin. The family lives nearby. They decided to open Lee Kan's in Collierville because they saw a need for unique dining in the area, the sort of place that feels like home.
"When I'm working at a restaurant, it's not just about making money. It's about developing relationships with the customers. You make friends with them," Kan says.