A little more than 10 years ago, while he was working for the Denny’s Corporation, Jim Berrios was on the road, part of his job as a vice-president of operations.
He had worked his way up from a graveyard-shift cook to one of the company’s top positions, but something was missing from his life: balance.
“I was gone a lot,” he says. “Part of why I left Denny’s is because I needed balance.”
The tipping point came when someone broke into his home while his wife and children were home, but he was not.
“The thought was, I need to do something different,'” Berrios says, adding that he also felt “guilty” for not being as involved in his community as he thought he should be.
Soon after, an opportunity arose to buy the Golden Steer Steak & Rib House and Berrios and his wife Suzanne went for it.
Now, not only is Jim never on the road – unless his family is with him – but his entire focus can stay on his neighborhood and city, where he and his wife live, work and give back – part of the strategy that is helping the pair celebrate a full decade at the helm of the Golden Steer.
“The key is the connections we’ve made with our customers and our staff,” Jim says.
For the past 10 years, the Golden Steer has been an integral part of the community, from its location on East Hill, hosting meetings of nearly all Kent’s service clubs as well as contributing prizes for school events, hosting a Thanksgiving meal for the needy and adopting families each Christmas.
It was a decision the couple made right at the outset and they’ve have never wavered from it.
“We agreed from the very beginning to be involved in the community more,” says Suzanne, who at the time was already volunteering with the schools and with the Kent Food Bank.
The pair saw an ad offering a managing role at the Golden Steer with an option to buy, but the previous owners, who had run the restaurant for 34 years, were looking to get out.
“It was time for them to sell it,” Jim says.
So instead of just managing for two years, the Berrioses worked with a partner and bought the restaurant outright.
Jim says he was also fed up with the corporate culture at Denny’s.
“One of the things I saw missing in the industry … was that personal touch,” he says.
With that in mind, Jim and Suzanne set out to turn their new place into a “community restaurant,” one where people felt welcomed and recognized the owners as well as a place that was dedicated to its community.
With a slew of regulars already coming to eat, the Berrioses decided not to change the menu or the decor or most of the staff.
“It was their place before it was ours,” Suzanne says.
To this day, the cook and dishwasher who were there when they bought it still work behind the scenes. The cook is now 72.
In fact, the only real change to the menu is the addition of vegetarian fare, added at Suzanne’s behest since she doesn’t eat meat.
The first year the owned the place, the Berrioses began what is now a tradition. Every Thanksgiving, the restaurant closes early, sends staff home and reopens with a core of volunteers who feed some of Kent’s neediest families, all of whom are recommended by either the Kent Food Bank or the school district.
“It’s a collaboration of community members, staff and vendors,” Jim says.
“One of the things we see the restaurant as is kind of a network,” Suzanne adds.
Golden Steer also adopts two families each Christmas, hosts the Food Bank Breakfast every year as well as the Kent Historical Society’s annual auction. Gift certificates are used as prizes at many school events (Jim is currently serving as Kent School Board president) and Communities in Schools hosts its fundraising breakfast at the store.
Jim also teaches a food-handler class to school teams and clubs looking to get the permit to raise some extra money while Suzanne remains involved with both the food bank and Domestic Abuse Women’s Action Network.
For their time, the pair has received numerous awards over the past 19 years including 2005 PTA “Spirit of the Community” award, the 2003 Volunteers of the Year Award (given by the King Council of Human Services) and the Lions club’s 2006 Community Impact Award.
But the honors for their work are not just local. In 2003, Golden Steer was named Business of the Year for Oregon and Washington and the Washington State Restaurant Association awarded them the Good Neighbor Award for the State of Washington in both 2005 and 2006.
This year, Suzanne was given the “Making a Difference for Women” Award from the local Soroptimist club (who meet at the restaurant). But not only did she win the local award, Suzanne took home the state award as well and is in the running for the national award. All of the prize money she won has already been donated to DAWN.
But they are not in it for the recognition.
“We don’t do it for recognition; we do it because we like doing it,” Jim says.
The restaurant also has allowed the family to become closer, as each of their three kids has worked in the restaurant. They continue to put in a few hours whenever they return to Kent.
And though the Berrioses not only live but work together, Suzanne says the fact that they have different skills means that they are not stepping on each others’ toes.
“We started this partnership 24 years ago and it’s truly been a partnership,” Jim says of their marriage.
In all, Jim and Suzanne attribute their success to the quality of their food, their ability to keep their prices competitive and the service and dedication of their staff.
But they also know the more they invest in their community, the more it invests in them.
Golden Steer Steak & Ribs is located at 23826 104th Street in Kent. For more information, visit www.goldensteerrestaurant.com.