MILES CITY – The 600 Cafe, a mainstay of eastern Montana dining, has closed.
Gloria Grenz, who owns the cafe with her husband Chris, who goes by his nickname Butch, said they closed the restaurant on Dec. 20, their wedding anniversary.
“We didn’t have enough help,” said Gloria Grenz. “Whether that’s our fault or theirs, I don’t know.”
Grenz said she and Butch aren’t sure if the closure is for good.
“We’re both getting up there,” she said of her and her husband, both 68. “We need to decide what’s best.”
Most things served at the cafe, like soups and bread, were made from scratch. Butch Grenz cut all the steaks himself.
“We worked really hard,” Gloria Grenz said. “My husband had his knee replaced and within a week he was back cutting meat. We’ve had people ask, everybody wants a recipe for what they crave.”
The cafe was still popular as ever. “We were packed the day we locked it,” Gloria Grenz said.
If the cafe re-opens, it might be with changed hours and a different menu, two things that would make it easier on the staff, Grenz said.
“I don’t think they know how much work we put into it,” she said.
Rumors about unhappy employees have long circulated in Miles City, said Kevin Gray, who does maintenance work at the Olive Hotel, a block down from the 600 Cafe.
Gray is a Miles City native who moved back to town eight years ago. His mom worked at the Hole in the Wall in the 1980s and he said he's always heard "scuttlebutt" about the couple having trouble keeping employees happy.
Mike Coryell, director of Miles City Area Economic Development Council Inc., called the 600 an icon.
“It’s one of the key businesses downtown. It’s always generated people coming to town specially to come to the 600 Cafe.”
The restaurant has always served as the community’s informal gathering place, Coryell said.
“Whether it was cattlemen or or businesses, it’s where everyone would go down and meet.”
Coryell said he hopes the Grenz family will try to sell the restaurant if they don’t choose to reopen. “From an economic development standpoint it’s something I’d like to get involved with.”
Butch Grenz’s parents opened the cafe in 1946 and ever since then it’s operated in this town of about 8,500. Folks wearing Wranglers and Carhartt jackets just about filled all available stools at the counter early in the mornings as locals and ranchers started their days over seemingly always-brewing coffee and big plates of chicken fried steak, fried eggs and hashbrowns.
Several large hand-tinted photographs by noted Western photographer L.A. Huffman also hung on the cafe's walls.
During the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale every May, the 600 was the hub of activity downtown; sometimes with long waits for a table in the cafe and at the Hole-In-The Wall next door, which also closed. The Boardwalk Restaurant, at 906 S. Hayes Ave., also owned by the Grenzes is still open.
The closure has halved the breakfast options downtown, Gray said, leaving a bakery/coffee shop on the other end of Main Street.
"As much as we're trying for Main Street, we're fighting Haynes out there," he said, referring to the avenue by Interstate 94 that's home to newer restaurants, hotels and other businesses.
That’s a common issue across the state, Coryell said.
“Any community in Montana that has an interstate that goes by it faces that. You’ll have people moving out toward the interstate, but the unique thing about Miles City is you have an exit out toward the west end.”
Coryell said long-discussed plans to build up that entrance to town could help redevelop the old business core. “We can promote it by saying ‘Come see the new Miles City, and come see the historic Miles City,’” he said.
Gloria Grenz said this winter has been a challenge for her and her husband. Butch lost the election for mayor in November.
“It’s just been strange for us,” she said.