ORLANDO, Fla. – Chef Lewis Lin did not plan on being a restauranteur.
“I moved here in 2006,” Lin said. “I was coming for my master’s degree.”
Lin came to Florida from Taiwan, pursuing a master’s in finance. Unfortunately, he graduated in 2008, just as the recession hit the U.S.
“I gotta find a job and I love food. I love food — always have. Old foods connect me to family and friends,” he said.
So, Lin started working in restaurants. Eventually, he purchased his first restaurant, Jade Sushi & New Asian in College Park.
Jade remains a fairly traditional sushi restaurant, but Lin was looking to bring something more unique to Orlando’s dining scene.
“Back then, all the restaurants in Orlando, especially Japanese restaurants, they only did sushi rolls, nothing else but sushi rolls,” Lin said. “I was thinking there is something better I can serve to friends or customers — bring some different culture, food to the city.”
This led Lin to open Susuru, a Japanese-style izakaya restaurant decked in Showa-era pieces of pop culture.
“It’s more close to where I can always go when I go to Japan (or) when I go to Taiwan,” he said.
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Susuru sells Japanese-style street food such as yakitori, which is skewered chicken grilled over coals, and ramen. The name actually comes from the sound people make while slurping noodles.
The Showa era refers to a period in Japanese culture following WWII that saw the creation of Japan’s popular culture that persists to this day, such as Godzilla, Ultraman and Power Rangers.
“I grew up in Taiwan. We’ve been influenced by Japan so much — the culture, the pop culture, the anime, those things — when I grew up, it was everything,” Lin said. “Showa was so different compared to the history of Japan.”
Lin is keeping a similar aesthetic as he opens his third restaurant, Juju, which is now in its soft opening.
“Soft opening will be August,” said Lin, the chef and owner of Juju. “After soft opening, when we are fully staffed, we will probably announce the grand opening.”
Juju is opening up at 700 Maguire Blvd., a building that used to house a Pizza Hut, right across the street from the Fashion Square Mall.
The construction saw the former Pizza Hut transformed to have the appearance of a Shōwa period-style Japanese house.
“We separate the whole restaurant into three different areas,” Lin said. “First, we have a really more high-end Kappo bar, a chef’s table — six seats, reservation only, serving 10 courses with a premium sake pairing option.”
The other sections are a traditional izakaya setting, which will serve drinks and snacks for a more casual dining experience, and another section focused on serving a late-night crowd.
Lin said he wanted to make Juju distinct from his other two restaurants.
“The reason for doing that in the Milk District is because I want to bring different concepts and share different kinds of food themes with (the people there),” Lin said.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Lin talks about the food he wants to share with customers. He also talks about the struggles of trying to open a new restaurant amid labor shortages and supply chain issues.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.