The Backporch is lassoing a new fresh way of eating in the town of Roundup. Where ranchers once gathered cattle by the Musselshell River, Morgan Belveal is leading up a new charge, herding in new ways of barbecue, waffles and coffee to this community.
Housed in rooms formerly occupied by the Big Sky Motel, Belveal and his partner Joey Campanella are starting a new business with the mission to “serve simply delicious, reliable and high-quality food every day of the week.” The remodeled space is reminiscent of an intimate country farmhouse with white beadboard walls and wood floors. The menu features yeast-risen Belgian waffles, cupcakes from recipes passed down from Belveal’s mother and barbecued meats inspired by his father, all “food that tells a story.”
Belveal’s saga begins with the purchase of the Big Sky Motel in 2020, followed by the opening of The Backporch at the end of July 2022 with a take-away concept featuring the option of outdoor seating.
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“I couldn’t see a stranger buying this place,” he said, referring to the motel once owned by his great-grandparents, Thomas and Dorothy McCleary. “I remember playing hide-and-seek in the hallways when we were children.”
In 1994, the McClearys' daughter Donna took charge of running the motel. After a decade or so of hard work, and desiring a warmer climate, she put the hotel up for sale. With fond memories of Roundup and tired of living in a small space in the San Francisco Bay Area, Belveal made the decision to relocate to his boyhood home where he is fifth-generation in the family lineup.
After graduating from Roundup High School, he went to Eastern Washington University to earn a degree in children’s studies and later, a master's degree at University of Pennsylvania in human development and international educational development. Over the years, Belveal worked in India, Ethiopia, Philippines and more recently in San Francisco for The Asia Foundation who focuses on good governance, women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Campanella worked for Foreman Wolf, a Baltimore-based restaurant group composed of dining establishments and wine stores owned by culinary pioneers Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf.
“I moved to Philly to see new ways to do it,” he said, discovering new perspectives on dining and running restaurants.
There he joined the High Street Hospitality Group owned by Ellen Yin, proprietor of Fork, High Street on Market, High Street Provisions and a kitchen and bar in Philadelphia and High Street on Hudson in Manhattan.
However, Campanella admitted, “My real food background is just eating out. This is the best homework to do.”
“Morgan and I designed The Backporch. In less than 200 square feet, Campanella fit in a four-burner induction range, a steam convection oven, meat slicer and a warming cabinet. There is no fryer because “The magic happens outside.”
Meats are smoked fresh for lunch and dinner. “Freshness is our biggest selling point.”
Belveal believes, “Montana has not made a name for itself in barbecue” especially poignant when it is one of the major beef producers in the country. They hope to remedy that deficit.
The pit beef comes from Campanella with his origins from Maryland. In Baltimore, barbecue means pit beef, which is a bottom round flat-cooked over an open charcoal pit for about three hours resulting in a crusty exterior and juicy, almost rare inside. The ribs come from a recipe Belveal’s father perfected after opening a barbecue catering business in 2006.
The focused menu also offers other cherry, maple and hickory-smoked items such as pulled pork processed for nine hours, classic and jalapeño brats made by Poly Food Basket in Billings, and turkey. Five sides and six sauces accompany the meat. The cowboy beans come from Belveal’s father’s recipe that “he has locked up in his gun safe.” The slaw is dressed for service and the roasted beets come with yogurt, greens and rosemary dressing. The mac and cheese exudes comfort made with Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmesan cheeses, while the jalapeño cornbread is more like cake. On the day of my visit, street corn salad with smoked corn, herbs and Cotija cheese showcased a seasonal vegetable. Dessert includes Belveal’s mother’s lemon and basil, and red velvet cupcakes.
The six sauces include: Alabama white, made with mayonnaise and cider vinegar, Carolina gold, containing yellow mustard, espresso, showing Asian flavors, pepper vinegar, sweet & tangy, and classic.
Coffee and waffles are served until 10:30 a.m. The freshly roasted beans come from Roast House Coffee in Spokane, because Belveal values the company’s belief in sustainability, gender equity and quality. The waffles were inspired by the Bay Area Blue Bottle Coffee Company that has a branch in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The thick Liege waffles have Belgian origins. The yeast-risen batter made with pearl sugar is crunchy and does not need syrup, so is ready for a grab and go.
Currently customers include “50% from Roundup, 20% from the motel, more and more people just stopping by" Belveal said.
“The reception in town has been amazing,” Campanella added.
In appreciation, The Backporch will be hosting the “Hocus Pocus" event to celebrate Halloween, featuring complementary homemade hot chocolate and full candy bars around a fire pit.
Belveal, who has traveled the world, is comfortably back in Montana, rounding up fresh food for the community at The Backporch.
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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