r SPRINGVILLE – Like a Chinese lantern that glows gently but can be seen for miles, the T-Bone Restaurant has been welcoming customers for 20 years this month to its South State Street location a mile past the railroad underpass.
The restaurant offers a full American and full Chinese menu, with favorites on each side of the board. Their succulent halibut is hand-breaded; their steaks richly marbled and free of artificial seasonings. Their egg drop soup is just about perfect, as are each of the Chinese entrees made from recipes brought from China.
“Mom takes care of the front. Dad, the back,” said Kevin Li, who, as “Elder Brother; he knows everything,” is the family’s spokesman, said Li’s mom, Julie Kwang, as she stopped by a table for a quick visit.
His father, Jin Jun Chung, was a chef in China. He heads a team thatalso includes two of his brothers, Bai Chen and Huan Jun Chen. “This is what they know how to do,” said Li, 28, who is training to be a pediatrician or child psychologist.
“It started when I was little,” Li said. “Children seemed to flock to me.” So do customers. Li has been part of T-Bone since he was 8 years old. This story is how as the restaurant grew, so did the family. Both continue to pulsate with a gentle glow.
The T-Bone Restaurant started as a nearly-out-of-town steak house in 1945. The Kwang/Chen duo bought it in 1997. They had moved from China to West Jordan about 10 years before, immigrating as “family” to an uncle who lived in the area.
Their search for a business of their own led them to Springville. Their children, Kevin and Kelly Li – he’s now a businessman – grew to four, including Kaylie Chen, in training to be a CPA, and Kyle Chen,who at 16 isn’t sure what he will be doing in the future.
In the present, all four help in the restaurant. Homework always came first, either at a back table in the restaurant or as they grew older, at home. The first “work” they did at the restaurant involved wrapping napkins around silverware, an activity that was more to keep them occupied than anything, Li said.
It also taught them the value of family, the Elder Brother added.
“Gotta help the family out, you know,” Li said. “Family is important.
“When you work together, it’s more important to solve the problem and move on,” he continued. “We have had our differences, but we don’t dwell on it.”
They learned young to be gracious to customers and each other, and as a result learned to temper their thinking and handle their emotions no matter what the situation, the not-quite-a-doctor-yet said.
“You grow up in a service business and you learn,” Li said. “I genuinely like to ask how people are doing, and what they like.
“All the customers we’ve grown to know over the years, now we’re seeing their children and grandchildren,” the Elder Brother continued. “That’s one good thing. There are many others.”
One “fun” aspect of the restaurant is its collection of record album covers that range from vocal stars (Gladys Knight and the Pips) to movie soundtracks (Flower Drum Song.) The collection started when a customer gave one to cover bare walls. Each one since has been donated by customers, and no matter the offer, none are for sale.
“They’re from our customers,” Kevin Li said. “We want to respect their gifts to us.”
The T-Bone Restaurant’s hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.