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‘It’s the way to honor her memory.’ Happy Chinese reopens following family tragedy

Jay and Lily Li have owned Happy Chinese Food in Idaho Falls since 2003. | Courtesy Jay Li
IDAHO FALLS — Happy Chinese Restaurant has reopened in downtown Idaho Falls after a family tragedy last year.
Jay and Lily Li have owned the award-winning restaurant on Shoup Avenue since 2003. Jay has always cooked the food while Lily focused on customer service, accounting and other business needs.
Last October, Lily was involved in an accident that left her unable to work, and the family temporarily closed Happy so Jay could take care of her. Lily passed away in early December, leaving a big hole in Jay’s heart and at the restaurant.
“Part of the success that we have, the many awards that are placed out front, are largely because of her,” Jay Li says as his son, Suchen Li, translates from Chinese to English. “She did all the outward-facing things like working with accountants or investors and things like that.”

Happy Chinese Restaurant reopened this month at 504 Shoup Avenue in Idaho Falls. | Nate Eaton,
The Lis moved to eastern Idaho 20 years ago when Lily was invited to teach Chinese as Ricks College transitioned to Brigham Young University-Idaho.
“My professional training in education was electrical engineering, and that’s what I initially wanted to do after emigrating to the United States,” Jay recalls. “But there was a language difference, and the specifications in engineering were dramatically different. I was trained in the metric system, but America uses the imperial system.”
Cooking was something Jay loved to do, so he and Lily decided to buy Happy. She had an undergraduate degree but needed a master’s and Ph.D. to continue teaching at BYU-Idaho, so the revenue from the restaurant paid for Lily’s education.

Jay Li has always enjoyed cooking and uses family recipes at Happy Chinese Restaurant. | Nate Eaton,
Jay prides himself on his unique recipes and flavors. He says most Americans are familiar with the southern style of Chinese food, but he and his family lived in a part of China that would be equilavent to the midwest United States.
“So the food here isn’t so different from others, but it’s different and unique enough. That’s what sets us apart from a lot of places,” he says.
After Happy was closed for nearly three months, Jay reopened it at the beginning of January. It’s been difficult to work without his wife.
He’s taking one day at a time and relying on his son and a small staff to pick up the pieces. Even though Lily is gone, a part of her will always be at Happy.
“This restaurant is as much … her legacy as it is mine,” Jay says. Tears come easily as he speaks about his beloved Lily. “The least I can do now is (keep) it running and keep it successful as a way of remembering her. It’s the way to honor her memory.”

Happy Chinese Restaurant serves a variety of menu items cooked by Jay Li. | Nate Eaton,
The post ‘It’s the way to honor her memory.’ Happy Chinese reopens following family tragedy appeared first on East Idaho News.

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