Tucson's south side is about to become home to one of the area's largest Chinese restaurants and one of the largest restaurants in the city.
The 12,800-square-foot Lin's Grand Buffet, 1068 E. Tucson Marketplace Blvd., is about a third smaller than U Like Oriental Buffet on North Oracle Road — that restaurant, near the Tucson Mall, is just over 17,000 square feet.
Lin's, which could open late next week, will seat 400 and will serve as many as 100 different Asian, American and Mexican dishes, from classics like General Tso's chicken and beef and broccoli, to sushi and Mongolian grill with seafood, poultry and beef; on weekends, diners can get ribeye steak. The menu also will feature kid-friendly chicken nuggets and french fries, and Mexican dishes including enchiladas.
This will be the ninth restaurant in the Texas-based Lin's chain, which opened its first restaurant in McAllen, Texas, in 2000. It's the fourth in Arizona since Lin's opened in Phoenix's west side in 2008.
Owner Frank Lam said he had scouted Tucson locations long before building in Phoenix but couldn't find anything suitable until the two-plus-acre spot next to Walmart in the Tucson Marketplace became available. Lam, who owns Lin's with his aunt and uncle and two other partners, broke ground in February on the $4.5 million project.
On Monday, the steady buzz of an electric saw matched rhythms with the thump, thump of hammers hitting wood as a crew of 25 worked on the interior. Lam stood next to buffet area, where a worker was peeling off protective film and installing fixtures in one of the four serving tables. The owner surveyed the work in progress and sounded confident that from the dust would rise a grand dining room.
"We're looking for the wow effect," he said about the restaurant's size and design. Etched glass greets diners in the entryway and is used to accent the serving area. The dining room features two raised platforms and a private dining room.
"It looks like a lot of work, but once we get the carpet, we have a cleaning crew coming in," Lam, 40, added. Once the carpet's installed, workers can set up the tables and chairs and put the finishing touches on the kitchen and serving areas, he said.
Providing the city permits are approved by early next week, Lam said he could be open by Dec. 22 or 23.
Later this week, Lam said he plans to begin interviewing as many as 100 people for 80 positions.
Lam and his family have been working in restaurants since he was a child growing up in his mother's small Philadelphia Chinese restaurant.
"I had a bed in the kitchen," the Pennsylvania native said, recalling how he used to play in the kitchen and watch his mother and others cook.
After graduating from college, Lam worked several years for IBM on the East Coast before moving to Texas and teaming up on Lin's with his aunt and uncle, who also had owned a Chinese restaurant. The trio has two other outside partners, and Lam's brother is a part-owner and operator of two Texas locations.
Lam, who is still recovering from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in Phoenix last summer, said he is confident the south Tucson location will do well. The restaurant bookends the fast-growing Tucson Marketplace at The Bridges, which includes a the area's only Walmart and Costco, and a new 14-screen Cinemark movie theater that opened in November.
"If you're driving on the I-10 east to west, you can see us from the freeway," Lam said.