POLSON - Waitress Linda Hertz says if she had 50 cents for every time someone asked her over the past three years if the 4B's Restaurant here might ever reopen, she wouldn't be where she is - which is back waitressing at the 4B's Restaurant here.

"I could have retired by now," says Hertz, who worked at the restaurant for nearly 16 years before it suddenly shut down in 2007.

People were surprised when it locked up three years ago, and pleasantly surprised when it reopened last month under the same name, with the same menu and boasting the same tomato soup that was and remains a favorite of many customers.

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"It was a ‘quiet' (unadvertised) opening that wasn't very quiet," says general manager Cheryl Gertge. "People driving by saw cars in the parking lot, and it seemed like everyone pulled in to check it out."

The family-style restaurant near the junction of U.S. Highway 93 and Montana Highway 35 has been steadily busy, and often times packed, since.

For decades, 4B's was a familiar brand to thousands of Montanans.

It began in Missoula in 1947 at a location on West Broadway. Placemats picturing buzzing bees explained the name: Founder Bill Hainline named it after himself, his wife (Buddy), his son (Bill Jr.) and daughter (Barbara).

Over time it grew, to three restaurants in Missoula and several more spread across the state, including the one in Polson.

The business plan was simple, Gertge says: A family-oriented restaurant with good food at an affordable price, served by a friendly staff.

That part succeeded, but Gertge says problems with a trucking company tied to what was now a corporation forced 4B's hand. Many of the properties were sold to another Montana company, Town Pump.

Star Buffet, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that runs restaurants from Florida to Washington, bought some, too.

Importantly, Star Buffet also bought the rights to the 4B's name, menu and recipes.

4B's in Miles City, Havre and Great Falls never closed, and Star Buffet previously reopened restaurants in Deer Lodge and Butte before unlocking the doors in Polson as well.

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Already, manager Kris Erickson says, people from Missoula - where 4B's was a famous name for the longest time - have driven north just to order off the familiar menu that includes staples like meatloaf and liver and onions.

"We had a whole table that came in from Missoula and ordered the tomato soup and salad bar," Erickson says.

Salad bars were removed from the other 4B's, but Gertge says it was too popular in Polson to even consider doing so.

Before reopening the Polson restaurant, which had sat vacant and for sale for three years, Gertge says Star Buffet replaced every water pipe - "Seventy-two of them," she says - and put in new water heaters, water softeners, freezers, a dishwasher and "reach-ins" on the cooks' line, and recarpeted and repainted.

They even added three big-screen TVs - "So I don't have to miss my sporting events when I'm at work," Erickson jokes.

Gertge worked at 4B's, as an assistant manager, for 7 1/2 years before it closed. She's one of nine people who lost their jobs in 2007 who came back as full- or part-time employees. Waitress Pat Turner, Gertge says, had 25 years in at the restaurant when it shut down, and is back again, working one day a week.

Hertz spends three days a week here, and two at the nearby Wal-Mart, where she went to work after the restaurant shut down.

She took the Wal-Mart job, Hertz says, "Just so I could keep up with the families I wasn't going to see in the restaurant anymore."

The reopening, Gertge says, has created 55 full- and part-time jobs.

That's important to the local economy.

The rest of the benefits seem to be primarily related to the belly.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@

missoulian.com.

Photography editor Kurt Wilson can be reached at 523-5270 or at kwilson@missoulian.com.

 

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