After eight years in retirement, 60-year-old Alan Anderson is continuing his over 40-year career as a restaurateur in Provo alongside his two sons.
From the moment the Orem native secured his first job at JB’s Big Boy on University Avenue, Anderson knew he would be in the restaurant business for the rest of his life. The high school dishwasher-turned-cook saw his position as more than just part-time employment.
Anderson remained in the industry for decades, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. After high school, Anderson joined the U.S. Army National Guard where he served in a medical unit and used military benefits to pay his way through college. During his time in service, Anderson was taking courses at what is now Utah Valley University, working toward a degree in accounting.
In 1994, Anderson was traveling to his weekend drill with the National Guard when he saw a building at 1650 W. Center Street was available and began to reflect on the joy he felt during his time working as a part-time cook at JB’s Big Boy.
Within the year, Anderson opened his first restaurant location, called the Great Steak Grill, previously the Great Steak Sandwich Co., on the west side of Provo.
“Back in ’94, there wasn’t a Subway and there wasn’t a Wendy’s down there,” he said. “There wasn’t much on the west side of the freeway.”
For over 18 years, Anderson oversaw operations at the local restaurant, working 70 hours a week serving families and cooking food. Anderson passed down the torch to his oldest son in 2012, stepping away from the industry in search of a change of pace.
Now, after sidelining his spatula for the past eight years, Anderson is getting back into the game. Anderson secured the former location of Stan’s Diner with the intent to start a new restaurant on the east side of Provo called Steak Express.
In its over 25 years in operation, the initial location is where Anderson watched his children grow up and where several employees followed in their parents’ footsteps, getting their first job at the original Great Steak Grill.
Anderson said he can’t wait to see that same history continue on in the new location.
“We’re excited to bring the presence we have in west Provo to east Provo and build the same camaraderie we’ve established in the communities to the west of the freeway,” Anderson said.
Similarly to how Anderson stumbled upon the first location, he and his wife were on a Sunday drive heading toward Springville when the couple saw what they perceived as the perfect building for a second location advertised for rent.
Anderson and his family hit the ground running after they secured the location, and just as Steak Express was preparing to open its doors, the coronavirus pandemic hit Utah.
“COVID-19 has been a challenge, it surely has,” he said. “We’ve been kind of scared and anxious, but we’ve still all got to eat. Comfort food sometimes helps us feel good for a few minutes or makes us feel not so scared.”
Opening a second location in the midst of a pandemic, and even opening the first restaurant decades ago, would never have been possible, Anderson said, if not for his friends and family, especially from his wife of over 35 years.
The unconditional love and support Anderson and his sons received pushed them to follow through with their dreams despite the uncertainties they faced.
Undeterred by a decrease in the number of customers, Anderson said the pandemic has improved the restaurant’s processes.
The increased use of the drive-thru amenities have taught Anderson and his team how to be more efficient when serving customers, and the procedures associated with preparing food and getting it into the hands of customers has greatly evolved.
Anderson is most looking forward to the day that customers will be able to come in, sit down and enjoy the ambiance and food. That day, however, is not too far away.
At the present time, Steak Express, located at 525 N. 900 East in Provo, is expecting to welcome dine-in guests on July 19.
Editor's Note: Anderson is no long affiliated with the Provo location of his original steak restaurant, but is working as head cook at the Steak Express.