Leslie Broadhead and her brother decided to build a restaurant for their mother, who was a school lunch lady, after the passing of their father. The restaurant, Leslie’s Family Tree, opened its doors in December of 1984 and has been open for business until Friday, when it closed its doors for good.
“From the very first day it opened, it just took off like crazy,” owner Leslie Broadhead said. “We’ve done really good over the years.”
Broadhead added that the restaurant has been through some tough times where business had slowed. This included New Year’s in 2000 when people thought computers were going to wreak havoc, then 9/11 when travel slowed and now the pandemic.
While it had stuck in there through some rough times, the pandemic was a whole new struggle.
Add in the fact that there are so many other dining options in the area and Leslie’s Family Tree has had a tough time in 2020.
“The pandemic is killing me,” Broadhead said. “We’ve been known kind of all over the state, with a lot of travelers from other states, and we’ve never had a problem as long as gas prices have been down then people will get out and come see us. This pandemic has just been horrible.”
Normally the restaurant thrives on tourists and travelers making their way to southern Utah or others coming into the Salt Lake metro area.
With Santaquin somewhat marking the entrance into the more populated areas of Utah County, it became a well-known stop for food with travelers.
“It’s just really good food so word of mouth has kind of spread us all over,” Broadhead said. “People traveling, that’s been our number one draw. Motorcycle riders of all different clubs have supported me over the years really well. Everybody has been a great supporter, but this year — I’ve had battles before but none like this.”
When the restaurant announced it would be closing for good on Facebook, the comments were filled with people saddened by the news.
Some called it a community staple, others reminisced about their stops to eat and many spoke about the beloved scones.
The scones were always the biggest draw at Leslie’s, according to Broadhead. They were the restaurant’s calling card from Day 1 and Broadhead added that they were as big as your arm.
When asked about the restaurant becoming a community staple after so many years, Broadhead said she never expected it to become such an icon in Santaquin.
“Years ago when we opened it for my mother, the very first day, I remember week by week the bank over here would wait for our deposits just so it could run,” Broadhead said of the restaurant’s early success. “They’d ask if we were bringing deposits so they could cash out people’s checks. I thought that was the funniest thing ever. I never thought it would be such a staple.”
Everything that Leslie’s has to offer is homemade, literally everything on the menu. This includes the breads used, the country fried steaks and the famous scones.
“I’m so overwhelmed right now that it’s kind of bittersweet,” Broadhead said. “I’m old enough that I need to retire, but it’s just part of my life. I’ll start crying while I’m talking to you.”
One of the memories that really stood out to Broadhead over the restaurant’s 36-year history was a day in which someone from Eureka died during the AIDS epidemic.
With supporters from New York coming to town and others for the funeral, Leslie’s had quite a full house that day.
“Oh my gosh, every seat in my house was busy,” Broadhead said. “Strangers were sitting by strangers on the same table, people were getting up and helping me get drinks and writing down orders. That day was a waitress’ nightmare. I had three rooms, one that could seat 100, one that could seat 60 and then my main room is 70 — and every spot was filled up from people that had traveled into town.”
She claims it was the busiest day the restaurant ever saw.
As far as famous people who have visited Leslie’s Family Tree, Broadhead was quick to bring up Gabby Gourmet, the longtime food show host on KUTV.
He was reportedly the first person to do a feature on the restaurant, which boosted traffic and helped spread the word.
Broadhead added that he would often stop in on his travels through Santaquin.
Another big pull for the restaurant was the existence of paranormal activity within the building.
“That’s one of the things I’m going to miss,” Broadhead said.
The ghosts and spirits who called Leslie’s Family Tree home gained fame through television shows like “Dead Files,” “Ghost Hunters” and “Psychic Kids.”
It may have made some patrons skittish, but Broadhead said it brought more people into the restaurant than it scared away.
Leslie’s would host ghost hunts as well, which included dinner and then the hunt. No one ever left disappointed, according to Broadhead.
She always considered the spirits as ones who look over her restaurant, sometimes even protecting it.
“All of the mediums that have come in here, every one of them has told me that I have an aura so full of love that I won’t see any evil or mean spirits, thank goodness. I only see the nice ones, so I come in and I tell them good morning, and I thank them for watching over my place.”
One time a fire broke out inside the restaurant. With a building primarily built of wood, that is normally not a good thing.
Broadhead was shocked by the fact that the fire got put out when the building could have very easily burned down. She chalked it up to the spirits.
“People have stolen from me and they’ve actually told me this, the ghosts will give me names,” Broadhead said. “It’s really crazy how they’ve just looked over the place.”
As for what comes next, Broadhead plans to take a couple of weeks off to watch some television, something she said she is barely able to do right now. After that she is hoping to continue working.
She said she is too nervous of a person to not seek out part-time employment.
When asked about a final message to her supporters, Broadhead began to tear up.
“Thank you for all of the support, having patience with me on the busy days, supporting me on the slow days, just thank you so much for all of the support,” Broadhead said.