This week's theme in the second installment of the Montana Standard's economic outlook series is the restaurant industry in town. In the following piece we highlight some of the established restaurants in the area, and their keys to success. More food stories can be found today in the D Section.
What makes a restaurant successful? Some tricks of the trade – good food, good service -- are high on the list. Others have sometimes more unique approaches. The bottom line: Finding success in the restaurant business isn’t always easy.
Here's what area restaurant operators had to say about their successful niches:
Lydia’s, 4915 Harrison Ave.
Ever since Dave Micheletti’s Aunt Lydia started the restaurant way back in 1946, the renowned Butte restaurant has been a mainstay of dining excellence.
He attributes Lydia’s statewide reputation to several factors, starting with elegant white table cloths for an upscale ambiance and an emphasis on top quality and quantity of food served.
“I think our key to success has been Lydia’s has always served a traditional Meaderville-style dinner,” said Micheletti, whose grandfather immigrated to Butte in the 1920s and settled in the old Italian Meaderville neighborhood, located where the top center of the Berkeley Pit sits.
Micheletti’s family history follows:
Despite having four other siblings, Lydia became the breadwinner of the family at age 13. After washing dishes at a Meaderville club, she eventually worked her way up to chief chef at the famous local Rocky Mountain Café, and then co-owned the Savoy.
By 1946, she bought a little bar, the Casino, which sat to the south of today’s Lydia’s. She gave the place her namesake and a fine-dining legacy was born.
Lydia retired in 1966, when David Micheletti Sr., took over the restaurant. His two sons, David Jr. and Greg, worked off and on at the family business while pursuing concurrent careers.
Now David Jr.’s two adult children, Nico and Toni, work for him since David Sr. died in 2009. The family dynasty goes on, but not without a set of high standards.
“Lydia’s has really become a Butte landmark over the years,” said David Jr. “We’re the last restaurant in Butte that still serves the traditional Meaderville-style dinner – a hybrid of Italian and American food.”
Diners get plenty, including choices among main staples steak, chicken and seafood; homemade raviolis and an antipasto as the first course.
The antipasto alone seems worthy of a meal in itself. It includes Lydia’s “famous” homemade Roquefort dressing, salad, cheese, green onions and homemade sweet potato salad.
“We do have a couple gourmet Italian entrees on our menu, as well, but most people come for our steak, chicken and primarily lobster – that’s the American part,” said Micheletti.
All-you-can-eat raviolis and spaghetti with homemade sauce, plus French fries round the traditional Meaderville dinner.
“When I was growing up, almost all restaurants in Butte served that type of meal,” he added.
But then Meaderville was absorbed by the pit in the 1960s.
Customer service is key, too.
“We’re pretty proud of what the family has accomplished,” said Micheletti. “It’s a family tradition. As you know, in this day and age, this is a long time for a family business to still be in business.”
Another key to Lydia’s success? Stable, dedicated employees.
“We’re very proud that on the average, we employ about 30 people at any given time. Since 1946, Lydia’s has provided jobs for Butte citizens – literally thousands of Butte people have had employment opportunities at our business.”
The Derby Steakhouse, 2016 Harrison Ave.
Rene Pascavage, who took over ownership of The Derby Steakhouse last year after 24 years working in various capacities there, reveals that it’s crucial to strike a delicate balance between preserving old-school traditions and modernizing.
A combination of factors play into continued success of a restaurant like the Derby, where Pascavage’s staff cuts fresh steaks everyday and the staff of 29 is stable and dedicated.
“I’ve got good employees,” said Pascavage. “That makes a huge difference, too.”
Eating at the Derby gets handed down in families -- a definite key to maintaining a steakhouse dynasty of sorts.
“People keep coming back,” she added. “At the Derby, I see three generations because I’ve been there so long. Diners’ kids are coming back with their kids, so we’re doing something right.”
Pascavage touts the dependability of regular clientele and menu specials that continue to draw them in, such as Seafood Dream on Fridays (clam chowder and seafood bisque) and daily “awesome” homemade soups.
An ambiance update, too, has helped.
“I’ve changed it up a little but, though,” she added. “I painted and redid a few things. I gave the walls a new look with new sconces, lighting and a new sculpture. I just kind of freshened it up a little bit and gave the Derby a modern look.”
One significant change is serving hamburgers in the evening.
“Everybody kept asking: ‘Why don’t you serve your burgers at night?’” said Pascavage. “It’s what the people want -- that’s what I’m trying to pinpoint; I want to make them happy.”
Twenty-six of the 29 Derby employees are full-time, which lends to stability for them, their families and Pascavage.
“My employment doesn’t change too much,” Pascavage said. “A lot of my staff has been there a long time. Once they’re there, they usually stay.”
She should know, after dedicating 25 years (so far) of her life to The Derby.
“We have good food and a good reputation,” she said. “Business has been really good; I’ve been real happy with it lately. We make it all work.”
The Montana Club, 3540 Harrison Ave.
A mile-long menu and mile-high service are the hallmarks of The Montana Club, a popular family-dining restaurant franchise that opened in Butte over six years ago.
As far as fine dining goes, The Montana Club is a bit more relaxed.
“Last time I counted, we had over 200 items,” said Manager Kevin Fabatz. “We’re more of a family-style atmosphere dining. More than anything, that’s the overall feel of our restaurant.”
A separate dining room for holiday and birthday parties and a separate casino are big draws, too. A separate kids’ menu lends itself to the family-friendly ambiance.
Described as a menu for all ages, the expansive selection regularly includes Angus beef and Alaska seafood.
“We try to be part of the youth atmosphere in Butte, too,” added Fabatz, as the restaurant sponsors Little League and Montana Tech athletics.
The restaurant’s success comes in many forms.
“We strive for customer service and making sure our staff pleases the people,” Fabatz said. “And cleanliness is a big deal with us.”
Co-owners of The Montana Club franchise are Nick Alonzo and Bob Powell, Montana natives who live in Missoula. They have run the franchise for 20 years.
Mile High Dining Room, Fairmont
The views -- poolside, the mountains, rolling hills -- are a big draw at the Mile High Dining Room at Fairmont Hot Springs.
“We have great sunsets,” said Steve Luebeck, general manager since 2007 and previous controller since 1991.
A solid menu mix of steaks, seafood and upscale beef items “kind of capture that usual, customary Pacific Northwest menu,” said Luebeck.
The restaurant offers a separate children’s menu to accommodate lighter appetites.
A strong, healthy tradition boosts the fine dining experience at Fairmont, too.
The Wilder Family Trust of British Columbia founded Fairmont Hot Springs in 1972 and named it after a B.C. resort it owned, said Luebeck.
Since then the trust has lent stability to Fairmont, which offers swimming, a spa and salon, conference rooms, golf, lodging, a park and the Mile High Dining Room.
The resort, plump with 153 rooms, draws from a wide demographic.
“What you get is a big cross section,” said Luebeck. “Romantic dinner couples, reunions, families who come from Butte. It’s definitely a mix.”
The Uptown Café, 47 E. Broadway St.
Long a popular go-to lunch spot for Uptown business people, the Uptown Café garners a lot of good word-of-mouth.
Tucked away into a trendy rectangular restaurant in the Forbis Building, the Uptown Café touts itself as “Civilized Dining in the Wild, Wild West.”
White table cloths, local art exhibits, cocktails, a friendly, driven staff and a menu with a reputation combines for a fine-dining experience.
Some of the dinner entrees include pork loin medallion, prime rib of pork, filet of sole, ravioli with butternut squash and quail with huckleberry demi-glace. Desserts include crème brulee, white mousse pie, pecan ball with hot fudge, cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter pie, plus a few gluten-free items.
For 30 years, co-owners Guy Graham and Barb Kornet have immersed themselves in the heart of Butte, serving fine food to the regular lunch crowd and customers on the hunt for high-end cuisine Uptown.
Barclay II, 1300 E. Commercial Ave., Anaconda
The owners of Barclay II take great pride in the restaurant for many reasons.
For starters, it’s been in the family for 34 years in May.
Unwavering five-course menu choices, customized service, family-friendly atmosphere and a familiar staff continue to draw in regular customers and tourists.
“We take pride in the consistency of our food selections,” said Sandy Mattson, co-owner with her sisters, Karen Fagg of Billings and Diana Flood of Carey, Idaho. “However you want your steak cooked, we’ll do it.”
Barclay’s is known for its tenderloins, lobster and crab legs. White table cloths, napkins, candles and low lighting create an attractive fine dining ambiance.
“On the weekends and in the summertime everyday you need to call for a reservation,” said Mattson.
But she also caters to regular customers who have eaten there for the past 34 years.
Mattson employs five full-timers and 15 part-timers. Employees include her daughter, Tammy Hurley; son, George Mattson and his wife, Jamie; and Stephanie Hekkel and her husband John – who take time from their family-owned Club Moderne to help at Barclay’s.
Two granddaughters, Ali Hurley and Vatore Hekkel, help out during college breaks. So does the youngest, Arieona Mattson, restaurateur-in-training.
“They all have their own shifts,” said Mattson. “People enjoy it when they come in and there’s a family member they know.”
Originally, Mattson’s mother, Dorothy Barclay, and her sister-in-law, Delores Barclay, owned the restaurant. Both married Barclay brothers.
About 14 years ago, Mattson’s mother died, leaving the restaurant to the three sisters.
“We try to hold up the tradition that my mom and Delores started,” said Mattson. “We keep the menu the way it was when they started.”
Because the entire staff is close like family, Barclay II welcomes families and babies, too.
Christina’s Cocina Café, 2201 Silver Bow Blvd.
Christina’s Cocina Café started out in 1990 as La Cocina, a small Mexican restaurant in the back of the Speedway Tavern. The Front Street bar had been owned by Christina and her bartender husband, Mike McGrath, since 1977. The business was destroyed by a kitchen fire in 1998, and reopened as Christina’s Cocina Café on the corner of Silver Bow and Howard in 2000.
Christina McGrath said that location is an important component of a restaurant’s success. At first she was worried about the move.
“It was real scary going into that location.”
Once word got out, her patrons found their way to her door — though she noted that it has been much easier to find her since the advent of GPS technology.
“Google maps really helped,” she said, laughing.
People don’t seem to mind going off the beaten path to eat at Christina’s. McGrath attributes its success to the menu, prices, service and staff. McGrath serves uniquely flavored menu items, which have become customer favorites.
The Pollo a la Crema -- her recipe — is flavored with cilantro, tequila and wine. The green goddess dressing complements their salads.
“We order special seasonings for our fajitas from Texas,” she added.
McGrath said that service is fast and friendly.
“You get your chips and salsa right away when you come in, and you never wait long for your food,” she said. The kids menu, with coloring page and specialty items, also makes the dining enjoyable for the whole family.
Next to food, service and prices, good restaurants need to have good management. A family business run by the McGraths and their sons, the loyalty extends to some of their longtime employees. McGrath said that the family corporation meets weekly, and McGrath also meets weekly with her other managers.
“We have a lot of good help,” she said.
And McGrath’s enthusiasm for the business doesn’t hurt.
“It just seemed to work for us … we go with our own gut instinct and make sure all the pieces to the puzzle fit,” she said.
Sparky’s Garage II, 222 E. Park St.
When the retro-themed Sparky’s Garage opened in Dillon in 2000, the steady dining traffic meant David and Kathie Drew had a success on their hands.
“We saw a need for some good food, service and atmosphere and put it all together and came up to a concept that everyone can relate to,” said Marcus Drew, their son and business partner, who operates the Dillon Sparky’s location.
Drew said that they began looking to expand business to Butte mid-decade. After a few years of searching, a 1900s vintage garage on East Park Street went on the market. Sparky’s Garage II opened shortly thereafter. Despite the challenges that have come with fluctuations in the economy, Sparky’s expansion and its original location have created a recipe for success.
“We try to keep our costs down so we can keep prices down -- that’s one of the toughest things we can come up against,” Drew said.
And despite fluctuations in seasonal tourism, the business has a large local clientele.
“We have a great base of loyal customers,” Drew said.
Lyle Nalivka, general manager in Butte, said the restaurant offers an unusual atmosphere.
“We have a very unique décor … it’s all decorated with retro and collectible signage,” he said.
The theme carries over to beer taps resembling gas pumps, where 19 of the 20 taps pump out a steady stream of microbrews. In the kitchen, the specialty is barbecue.
“All our barbecue sauces are made in house and are gluten-free,” Nalivka said.
The sauce tops salmon, chicken, ribs, brisket and pork smoked on-site.
Nalivka believes the garage décor, affordable prices, great service and appeal to a wide range of people has helped make Sparky’s II a desirable dining location.
“We’re a family-friendly atmosphere, but we have all the accompaniments that go with an adult place as well -- from a full bar service and wine list to a children’s menu,” he said.
Metals Sports Bar & Grill, 8 W. Park St.
Having 31, 40-inch or larger big screen TVs isn’t the only thing that gives the Metals Sports Bar & Grill a huge fan-base of local patrons.
“I think it’s our food, staff and location,” said Mark Scarff, general manager.
A restaurant is only as good as its chef, and Scarff said that owner Ray Ueland recruited a Butte-native trained in the culinary arts when he opened the restaurant in 2007.
“Our chef, Tyler Triniman, was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland,” Scarff said.
Triniman created most of the recipes and menu items that have become local favorites.
Scarff said that the food is served by a great staff, which helps keep customers coming back.
“They’re all friendly and great to get along with — professional at their jobs, but still fun,” he said.
The location of the restaurant also has two things going for it. One, it is right in the heart of Uptown Butte at Park and Main. Two, it’s in a 109-year-old historic building situated within the largest National Historic Landmark District in the nation.
The restaurant decor includes original marble, copper-framed windows dating back to 1906, and a former bank president’s office that has been converted to the “Coaches Corner,” honoring some of Butte’s famous coaches. Perhaps the biggest novelty is the chance for diners to eat inside the original bank vault. The establishment has general appeal for sports enthusiasts to families and everything in between.
“We do a good job at everything that makes a restaurant successful, otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” Scarff said.