Izakaya in Midtown Houston is Closing to Make Way for a Gulf Coast Restaurant
Owners Yun Cheng and Sammy Saket of Izakaya at 318 West Gray (formerly of Azuma Group, which seems to no longer be an entity) say the restaurant is not saying “so long” but “see you later” as they re-concept the space into new restaurant Josephine’s. It marks the end of an eight-year chapter for Izakaya, as it opened in 2015. Cheng and Saket have hired Mississippi native Lucas Mckinney as the executive chef to create a Southern Gulf Coast menu. He’s an Underbelly Hospitality alum who worked for Chris Shepherd at Georgia James, The Hay Merchant, and, most recently as a sous chef at GJ Tavern.
“We’re not closing forever,” said Cheng regarding Izakaya. “We’re making the move now because we’ve established the right team for the new concept, and we’re actively searching for an inner loop spot for Izakaya. Our current lease doesn’t allow us to serve sushi, and we feel sushi is a key component to the Izakaya concept.” Izakaya’s last day of service will be no later than Sunday, April 30 — and it could be sooner, depending on remaining food inventory. Josephine’s is expected to debut in early or mid-June.
Joseph Ramirez, a Metairie, Louisiana native, will be Josephine’s general manager. He’s worked for the past five years for the Azuma Group and Kata Robata, where he’ll stay until he makes the move to Josephine’s in mid-June.
Josephine’s, named for Lucas’s grandmother, as well as a nod to a steamship with the same name that shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico, will serve not only Gulf seafood, but also Southern-style snacks, such as country ham, pickled okra and hushpuppies, and po’boys. The latter includes a Crabmeat Melt Po’Boy inspired by a 1940s-era one served by Rosetti’s Café in Biloxi, Mississippi called the Vancleave Special. At a whopping $1.75, at the time it was the most expensive sandwich the café sold. Crawfish boils will be held when it’s the season.
“[Josephine’s] is casual, but we’ll have a substantial raw bar with seafood towers and a sick wine program. It’s a come-as-you-are vibe with food executed at the highest level,” said Mckinney. “Our goal is for Josephine’s to be a place to decompress, recharge, and let the gratitude of Southern hospitality take over,” added Ramirez.
Houston-based Nest Interiors is redesigning the interior of the space to transform it from a Japanese restaurant into a Southern one. Among the changes: the dumpling bar will be reconfigured to host the aforementioned raw bar. In addition to Gulf oysters, there will be a small selection of East Coast oysters, and these will be available not only chilled, but also chargrilled.
Other interior changes include replacing the vibrant wall murals with rustic wood accents, and installing a painted tin ceiling, “Southern-style light fixtures” and hex mosaic flooring. The patio is also being redone with picnic tables and string lights to evoke cafés along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast.
Hours are still to be announced, but Josephine’s will serve lunch and dinner daily.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.