“I truly appreciate all the love and support from our community. It has really touched my heart,” says Leonard Kim of Cherrystones in Gardena. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

GARDENA — Cherrystones in Gardena is one of those local places that give a neighborhood its character: a place where regulars sit in booths to enjoy a glass of wine or sing karaoke while enjoying the signature chili and rice, kalua pork or teriyaki beef.

So when the coronavirus pandemic shutdown devastated small businesses, regulars have come to lend their support.

Last week, Carol Tanita sent out a mass email urging friends to support Cherrystones, which has been in business for more than 30 years.

Tanita wrote: “Leonard Kim has always supported our community, whether it be for a banquet, memorial service, fundraiser, birthday celebrations, showers and dance benefits. Now, like many other food services, restaurants and businesses, Cherrystones has had to drastically alter their way of serving their clientele.”

Kim said he is touched by the support he has received. This week, Cherrystones is preparing a special take-out Mother’s Day menu and has received orders from many of his regulars.

“I truly appreciate all the love and support from our community. It has really touched my heart,” said Kim.

One organization Kim that has supported over the decades is the Gardena Pioneer Project.

Karen Uyekawa said, “Thanks to Leonard’s annual golf tournaments, the GPP has been able to treat its senior citizen members over 80 years old (about four busloads) to a free prime rib lunch at Lawry’s once a year honoring our seniors for their contributions to our community. Without Leonard’s support, we would not be able to provide such an appreciation luncheon.”

“My dad always told me that you always give, that’s the way life should be,” Kim explained.

Prime rib dinner is being prepared for take-out for Mother’s Day.

Kim pointed to his black appointment book filled now with red ink, indicating a catering or private party that had been cancelled. He recently received the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan, which will enable him to pay his workers. The restaurant recently introduced a “four meals for $40” deal, which includes a choice of two entrees and assorted sides.

“There’s no profit in that, just trying to do what we can to keep our employees working,” he said.

On Mother’s Day, he is doing a prime rib special, which is also offered on Fridays.

The recipe goes back to the restaurant’s early days, when Kim had envisioned a Charthouse-style surf-and-turf steakhouse for Gardena. Over the decades, the restaurant became more of a relaxed dining experience, but the prime rib remained a favorite.

Kim seasons the meat with Hawaiian rock salt and other spices before searing at a high heat and then cooking slowly at a low temperature for an even finish. One thing Cherrystones offers that you don’t see at a steakhouse on the Mainland is a choice of white rice along with French fries, tater tots or baked potato.

In a normal year, Cherrystones would be doing a special buffet menu for Mother’s Day and the restaurant would be packed.

“Mother’s Day is special. Moms are everything and it’s their day. For a restaurant, it’s the busiest day of the year,” Kim said.

Restaurants are a tough business, but Kim said he thrives on the interactions with his customers and working with the community.

“We might not be the busiest, but we have the best customers,” Kim said. “It’s gratifying to be part of the community.”

Cherrystones, 15501 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena, CA 90247. To pre-order for Mother’s Day, call (310) 329-8200.

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