It's a family affair at Baker Hill Grill

Most people may prefer to spend their day off lazing about, but Tina Nguyen, spent hers opening a new restaurant.

Baker Hill Bar and Grill is Nguyen’s latest venture, a family restaurant with adjoining sports bar in Lynwood Center that has its grand opening today. The restaurant “soft opened” earlier in August to work out the kinks – including getting a roadside sign for building tucked away behind Walt’s Market.

Her ambition as restaurateur started early; Nguyen’s parents remember her with a successful stand in front of the family house at which she sold roasted potatoes, which she roped her older sister into buying and cooking for her.

“My parents are also business people. They told me I was an entrepreneur at age 5, but I honestly don’t remember that,” Nguyen said.

Tina and her husband Simon Nguyen are well known as the proprietors of Simon’s Chinese Cuisine, which they established five years ago after moving from Kansas to Bainbridge.

Tina discovered the island when she attend a wedding in Seattle and “cruised around” the island. Charmed by the quiet and peacefulness of Bainbridge, she brought her family of a six to the island and settled into a mobile home, pouring all their money into the restaurant.

The investment paid off. Simon’s was so successful, the family purchased a house just over a year later.

“We have been a very successful restaurant,” Nguyen said. “Ninety-five to 99 percent are local customers. I know everyone who walks in here.”

Seeing people and watching the kids grow up is why she likes the restaurant business, Tina says.

She and her family fled the war in their native Vietnam in 1975; Tina arrived as a young teen, not speaking any English. Her first restaurant experience was helping in her family’s Vietnamese eatery, which she later ran for her parents in Biloxi, Miss.

Now, 24 years of restaurant experience later, she greets customers to the dining room of the Baker Hill Bar and Grill, done in maroon and pine green with mostly booth seating. A quiet service bar for conversation in the back serves for a quiet drink or waiting room.

The sports bar next door, its walls graced with autographed sports-star photos, boasts a widescreen TV, pool table and touch-screen video games.

The lunch menu has items priced around $7.95, and includes salads, sandwiches as well as some seafood. Dinner entrees include classic steaks, pasta, sandwiches and seafood dishes priced mostly in the $14.95-$19.95 range; all burgers and steaks use only naturally grown beef.

Tina says the children’s menu, whose items average around $5 each with a choice of 6-7 meals, is important to her; she sees Baker Hill as the answer to her own family’s eating-out dilemma.

“I wished there was a place on the island that is inexpensive that I can take the whole family to,” she said. “When I go out, I don’t get a burger, I go for something nicer. I want halibut, but the kids want burgers.”

While the island does have restaurants offering a range of food to satisfy her family’s tastes, Nguyen says they are too expensive for larger famlies.

The trigger for opening a second restaurant came when she hurt her sciatic nerve three years ago, putting her on crutches for three months. She continued to work at Simon’s, but customers would tell her to sit down and would get their own menus and water refills. She was touched by the reaction.

“They treat me like a family here,” Nguyen said, which led to the idea for opening a new venture.

“I want to have a successful family fill in that gap that the island doesn’t offer,” she said. “Once I do that, I promise my customers I will take a day off.”

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