EPE's former Elvis Presley's Memphis restaurant closed in 2003, it now has a new tennant, restaurateur Jimmy Ishii. Whether EPE will have any direct involvement with the restaurant and whether Elvis Birthday and Elvis Week events will take place at this location as before. Yes. While EPE will have no role in managing the the restaurant, they will have a close, mutually supportive cross-promotional relationship and will assist Jimmy Ishii and his staff in any way they can according to the update on the EPE site.
The same goes the other way around. Restaurateur Jimmy Ishii definitely plans to participate in the Elvis Birthday Celebration and Elvis Week each year and the red carpet will be rolled out to Elvis fans just as it always was when the location was EPE's restaurant.
From the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis:
Jimmy Ishii, one of the first chefs to serve sushi in Memphis, is taking a distinctly Southern turn with a new Downtown venture in the spot once occupied by Elvis Presley's Memphis Club.
Ishii, who already operates eight Memphis restaurants from Sekisui East to bluefin and dish, is signing a 12-year lease for the new club, which will keep its Elvis Presley connection at 126 Beale with the working name "EP -- Delta Kitchen and Bar."
After 25 years as a restaurateur, Ishii said he wanted a restaurant with a music theme.
"Memphis is a music city, and Elvis is a symbol of the American dream," he said.
Elvis would be part of his musical tribute to the city, which Ishii said would be like a "Memphis jam" with music from several genres.
The Southern theme with music and the Elvis tie-in sounds like only a slight variation on the Elvis Presley's Memphis Club theme. But Ishii spokesman Joe Hemingway said Ishii's variation will be unlike anything else.
"We're not going to serve Love-Me-Tender chicken. We're not going to try to take the menu and the place and make it Las Vegas. He wants to take all the things that are great about Southern cuisine and do new interpretations of them."
The one-time Elvis club had a six-year run on Beale from 1997 to 2003. Elvis Presley Enterprises attributed the closing to the long tourist drought following the 2001 terrorist attacks and to the club's heavy dependence on Elvis fans. Its Elvis theme was not a perfect fit on a street known for the blues.
EPE chief executive officer Jack Soden said Ishii's proposal was one of more than 20 considered by EPE, which will sublease the building to Ishii.
"We had a lot of interest in the property, but we needed to get it in the hands of someone who had the wherewithal to do it. It will go forward with the benefit of Jimmy's reputation."
Ishii, who has nine more restaurants in the Southeast from Florida to Missouri, was the Memphis Restaurant Association's 1998 chef of the year and the Memphis Business Journal's 2000 entrepreneur of the year.
Soden said Ishii will open the club under far better conditions than when EPE closed it.
"We opened in 1997, and in 1998 Planet Hollywood and the rest of the themed restaurant business genre began to crash. Think how much has changed since. Now there's FedExForum. Thousands of new residents have moved into Downtown Memphis, and thousands more are on the way. It's a whole new day. This year the Vesta Home Show is Downtown."
Hamilton said "paperwork alone" on restaurant permits, building inspections and lease closings will take months, putting the opening of the club after the August Elvis tribute week with its huge influx of tourists.
Ishii says a good Downtown restaurant is not dependent on tourism alone.
"Downtown has some good days, some bad. Sometimes it depends on events. It's hard to predict."
The interior of the club will remain the same structurally, but Ishii said it will be redesigned extensively. The building is one of the few Downtown restaurants with its own parking lot.
By Michael Lollar
April 21, 2006