Tadra Stekly had just 10 days to make a life-changing decision.
The Big Sky High School graduate was living in Spokane, managing a little bar and restaurant there, when the owner of the old Buttercup Market and Café in the University District in Missoula told her she was willing to sell. Stekly had put in a modest offer months earlier because she loved the location and the space, but she hadn’t heard anything. It turned out all four higher offers had fallen through.
“She’ll come down to your price if you close in 10 days,” Stekly recalls hearing. “I knew I wanted it, so we went for it. I had no plan, I had no menu, I had no name. I had nothing.”
All Stekly knew was that she wanted to own and run her own café. Now, five months later, she’s transformed the spot into Nonna’s Neighborhood Eatery. She and her staff sell loaded toasts, soups, salads, espresso drinks and other treats. It’s been a whirlwind for a young woman who never went to business school or owned her own restaurant.
“It’s just been such a big learning lesson, just constantly,” she explained. “It always takes a lot more time and money than we planned, but we knew that. I’m just winging it. This is my business school.”
The menu features items like a caprese toast with pesto, mozzarella, tomatoes, balsamic oil and basil, or the Big Sky, which features homemade beef brisket. The Mediterranean features homemade roasted garlic hummus, and the S.O.S. (Sh#@ on a Shingle) features homemade sausage gravy and eggs with hot sauce.
“I wanted something for the college bros, and now it turns out my favorite is the S.O.S., the one I put on there just to appease the dudes,” she said. “And the brisket that we make is incredible. We make almost everything in-house.”
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The bread comes from Grist, an organic local bakery located inside Black Coffee Roasting Co. They also carry local teas, hot sauces, kombucha and other goods. They’ve already sold out two or three days.
Her younger sister is an interior designer and helped her come up with a vision for the place. The name comes from Nonna, the Italian word for grandmother. She said that was an ode to the Buttercup, which just had a grandmotherly, neighborhood feel.
“The Buttercup was great for the community,” Stekly said. “We want to keep that same commitment for the neighborhood. We love this neighborhood. It’s been amazing, the response from the neighborhood. I’ve been blown away.”
Violet Plummer, a political science major at the University of Montana, was eating a toast with Nutella and fruit on it on Thursday at Nonna’s.
“This place in my eyes has big shoes to fill because I really loved Buttercup a lot, and I loved Buttercup’s menu,” she said. “But so far the atmosphere is really similar to what it was and the food was good, so yeah. I like it.”
The place is located at 1221 Helen Ave. and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., but Stekly might expand her hours in the future. She’s also going to be a hands-on owner.
“I’m the owner, and I’m also the janitor,” she said. “I just love people, so I’ll always be in here. This isn’t going to be a sleepy little coffee shop. It’s going to be fun.”