Emotions were high and tears held back as Jim and Suzanne Berrios chatted inside the Golden Steer Steak ‘n Rib House for one of the last times after 22 years as owners of the Kent restaurant.
The couple decided it was time to try something else, although what that is remains to be determined. They’re excited that the new owners who took over Oct. 1 will keep the same name, menu and employees.
But selling the Golden Steer leaves a certain emptiness for the Berrios’ because of the large role the business has played in the community.
“The employees, the customers and our community involvement,” Suzanne Berrios said about the hardest aspect of leaving the restaurant. “We had the Kent Food Bank breakfast each year, Communities in Schools, the Historical Society. …to be able to help the community in that aspect we will really miss.”
The restaurant served as the gathering spot for many groups, including an annual Thanksgiving dinner that drew more than 500 low-income guests last year served by nearly 100 volunteers. This year would have been the 22nd year for the dinner.
“We couldn’t have done that if not for the community and the vendors,” Jim Berrios said. “A lot of families that come, it’s the one time a year they go out to a restaurant.”
The dinner became the Thanksgiving tradition for the Berrios family.
“Our family has only known that as being our Thanksgiving, so we are not sure how that’s going to go,” Jim Berrios said. “The new group (owner) wants to keep it going, but this year it probably won’t be allowed (due to COVID-19 restrictions).”
It also turned into a tradition for the many volunteers who helped serve the dinner.
“I’ve been getting text messages from families that have volunteered for years wondering what they are going to do,” Suzanne Berrios said.
It’s also an emotional ending to the ownership because their three children grew up with the restaurant.
“Our family was talking about it last night,” Suzanne Berrios said. “Their first job was here, and not just our kids but their friends. …They all went into their own careers, but they started here with learning a good work ethic.”
The couple bought the restaurant in 1999 from its original owners, Don and Dar Raftis, who had owned it for 35 years and emphasized community involvement.
“We know that the Golden Steer has always had a mission of giving back,” Suzanne Berrios said.
An ironic reason they also decided to sell is because Jim Berrios has been a vegetarian for close to five years and is moving into becoming a vegan, which his wife has been for years.
“It’s hard for me when I’m not eating meat,” Jim Berrios said.
What happens next remains to be determined.
“We just felt like it’s time,” Jim Berrios said. “We may just take some time or I may look to do something different. We will see how things go and figure it out. I’m still young (61) and work out every morning.”
Suzanne Berrios quickly responded to what’s next.
“He couldn’t sit around and do nothing,” she said.
“I’d drive her nuts,” Jim Berrios said.
The couple plans to remain in Kent. They live just a mile from the restaurant. Jim Berrios served on the Kent School Board from 2007 to 2011 and on the Kent City Council from 2014-2017. He lost a race for mayor to Suzette Cooke in 2009 and against Dana Ralph in 2017.
Jim and Suzanne Berrios look forward to spending more time with a couple of grandchildren in Auburn and their own children. Their son Josh works for Homeland Security in Tukwila, son Mike works as a RN at Multicare Covington Medical Center and daughter Krysta works as an education specialist for the state of Hawaii.
The Berrios’ sold the restaurant to the Royal Punjabis Group, five partners and local business owners that have managed and operated a number of convenience stores and restaurants throughout the state, and also have an accounting firm in Kent.
Rajwant Singh, one of the new owners, said he has worked in the restaurant business and with his partners saw a great opportunity. He said the Golden Steer is close to his house and family.
“I am going to give my 100%,” Singh said. “I am blessed to be a part of this ownership.”
Jim Berrios expects the owners to do an excellent job. He said they have decided to keep the menu and the concept the same and hired all of the current (32) employees.
“They are a powerhouse team, they know business,” he said. “I feel so comfortable about being able to hand them the keys.”
Berrios thought he had another buyer earlier in the year, but the deal fell through when Gov. Jay Inslee shut down the state due to COVID-19 in March. Berrios closed the Golden Steer for about three months before reopening June 11. He said sales were only at one-third of normal early on, but then increased to half of normal. The restaurant serves a lot of large groups, and those gatherings cannot happen under the current restrictions.
“It’s gaining momentum, but people are still afraid to go out and eat,” Jim Berrios said. “But our staff is doing a great job and we are strict about following the rules and sanitizing.”
But those concerns are now for the new ownership group, which the Berrios’ plan to assist through the transition.
“When you have people that are passionate about wanting to build the business and give back to the community, those are people you want to support,” Jim Berrios said. “But you need to do good job of delivering good food in a clean environment and with great service.”