Li’s Chinese Restaurant in Brandon to close after 20 years


BRANDON—For a town its size, Brandon has a surprisingly diverse range of dining options, including the Chinese restaurant run by the married team of Bo Li and Tiffany Jiang.  But Li’s Chinese Restaurant served its last customers on Tuesday, April 30.  

The decision to close the restaurant wasn’t easy, but after 20 years of continuous operation, the Li family could use a break.  Running a restaurant is hard work, especially since Bo’s parents, who had been helping, recently retired. 

“It’s very hard to find help,” explained Tiffany in a recent after-hours conversation at the restaurant on Park Street, next to the Brandon Inn. “And Bo’s father hurt his leg and needed surgery, so he hasn’t been able to work.  It’s just me and Bo.”  

MARRIED RESTAURATEURS TIFFANY Jiang (top left) and Bo Li (top right) with their children, Ryan (bottom left, now 16) and Derek (bottom right, now 18), circa 2014.

COVID changed the economic feasibility of running a restaurant as well, they said.  Business hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels and the increased cost of their ingredients has forced them to raise their prices.  

“It’s become very expensive to run the business,” said Tiffany.  

The Bo and Tiffany have two sons, Derek and Ryan.  Derek, 18, is a senior at Otter Valley and has a scholarship to attend the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston next year.  He plans to study mechanical engineering.  Ryan, 16, will be a junior at OV.  A desire to spend more time with their boys before Derek leaves for college was another factor in the decision to close the restaurant.

Bo and Tiffany aren’t planning to retire, however.  After a few months off, they hope to reimagine their first-floor space as an Asian food market and café, with a more manageable menu focusing on a broader range of Asian cuisine, such as dim sum (Chinese dumplings), sushi, and phô (a Vietnamese soup). 

“There are two or three Asian groceries in Burlington,” said Bo, “but they’re very small.”  One of the bigger Asian markets, on Dorset Street in South Burlington, recently closed for unknown reasons. 

And their desire to branch out into cuisines other than Chinese is simply the result of their genuine appreciation for food.  Even in their spare time, they love to cook, often inviting friends from town over for meals that aren’t on the restaurant’s menu.

Over the years, they’d sometimes try out different dishes, like Thai curry, as specials, but they learned that their customers preferred their tried-and-true favorites, such as General Tsao’s chicken and lo mein.  

Bo and Tiffany came to Brandon 20 years ago from New York City, where Tiffany grew up.  Bo was raised in Fujian, China but immigrated to New York with his family.  They were introduced by relatives with the hope that they would marry.

“It was like an arranged marriage,” laughed Tiffany.  “But we had a choice.”

Bo’s sister brought him up to Vermont to look for a place to open a restaurant outside New York.  Their first Brandon location was in the now-empty space between the Post Office and the liquor store on Conant Square.  They were there for 8 years.  But the rent, which started out at $1,800/month, eventually reached $3,700.  They knew they’d need to find something that made more economic sense over the long haul.

So, they purchased the building on Park Street, which used to house a bookstore downstairs and a café/music venue upstairs.  Their large community of friends helped them move all the equipment from Conant Square to the new location, forming a chain up Route 7 through downtown Brandon.

TIFFANY AT THE counter of their first restaurant in Brandon, which was located between the post office and the liquor store on Conant Square. Dozens of friends helped them move all their equipment up Route 7 to their second location on Park Street.
TIFFANY AT THE counter of their first restaurant in Brandon, which was located between the post office and the liquor store on Conant Square. Dozens of friends helped them move all their equipment up Route 7 to their second location on Park Street.

“The first day we were open was crazy,” said Bo.  “We were so busy.”

The new space allowed them to live above the restaurant, saving both time and money.

But Bo and Tiffany are ready to take a breather before their next venture.  They’ll spend time with their boys.  Bo will continue to create his intricate origami-like paper figures.  And they’ll continue to cook, for themselves and their friends.  In fact, the conversation at their restaurant wrapped up with a gift of packaged rice noodles (“These are the ones Chinese people eat”) and instructions on their proper preparation.  

Their building is on the market, but even if they sold it, they’d stay in Brandon.  After all, their boys were born here and it’s been their home for the last 20 years.

“Bobo and Tiffany are hardworking, intelligent, and most of all very kind people,” said Tim Shields, a Brandon resident who has become close with the Li family over the years.  “I admire their character.”

Mary Shields, Tim’s wife, recounts that the cultural exchange with the Lis went both ways: Thanksgiving at Tim and Mary’s, Chinese New Year at Bo and Tiffany’s.  

“They’re extremely generous and love Brandon,” said Mary. “We consider them family.”

Many in Brandon feel the same way, leaving cards for Bo & Tiffany as the closing date neared.

“We want to thank everyone for all the support,” said Bo.  “We’ve made a lot of good friends here.”

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