In this tumultuous year of constant shutters and uninspiring openings, it has been difficult to find the good in Austin’s restaurant scene. Leave it to one of Austin’s famously sunny restaurateurs to bow out with a major silver lining.
For more than 30 years, Chinese cuisine in Austin had one name — Suzi Yi. The consummate host has been a fixture on the local dining scene since opening her first namesake restaurant on South Lamar Boulevard in 1990, growing the brand to a mini-chain of four Suzi's China Grills locations with help from family and restaurant developer Frank Seely.
Now, she is moving on to the next chapter. According to a rep, she quietly closed the last of those outposts at 7858 Shoal Creek Blvd. on December 15.
The building won’t stay vacant long, however. On December 18, Amir and Ali Hajimaleki announced in a release that they were leasing the space from Yi to open a second location of neighborhood restaurant District Kitchen + Cocktails. The new restaurant is expected to open in spring 2019.
The changeover is a win for both restaurateurs. For the Hajimaleki brothers, it will allow expansion of a growing restaurant group, which includes Oasthouse Kitchen + Bar in Northwest Austin and upcoming Middle Eastern concept Roya. For Yi, it will mean some long-deserved rest.
Although Yi did not respond to a request for comment at press time, she did tell the Austin American-Statesman that the rental income from District (as well as current tenants Be More Pacific and Mattress Firm) will allow her to retire.
There will be some changes to the space. Amir, working with chef de cuisine MacKenzie Viglianco and executive pastry chef Dennis Van, will focus on New American offerings like scallops and risotto, burgers, and Wagyu steaks instead of Suzi’s pan-Asian fare and sushi. Architectural firm Design Hound will also redo the space, keeping the general feel of the original Slaughter Lane District with revamped touches like new lighting fixtures and furniture.
But at least one aspect is set to remain. Although relative newcomers, the Hajimalekis made a mark as much for their hospitality as much as their creative menus. That’s something very much in step with Suzi Yi’s spirit.