Big-city craft spirits are coming to the little town of Lolo.
The owners of the Lolo Creek Steakhouse are planning on constructing a new distillery and 4,000-square-foot tasting room next to the restaurant by the end of this year, embracing a trend towards craft alcoholic beverage production that is sweeping western Montana.
Owner Mike Grunow said he and his son Matt are in the process of getting the proper licenses from the state, but they plan to have Quality Construction break ground on the new building sometime this March, or as “soon as the ground thaws.”
Called Lolo Creek Distillery, the new venture will produce signature recipes of vodka, gin and moonshine to begin with, with whiskey aging in barrels for a later release.
“We’re going to have state-of-the-art equipment and we’ll be bottling our stuff,” Grunow said. “We’ve already developed our recipes. It will add a whole other aspect of Lolo Creek Steakhouse. We’re developing another level of parking and people can enter the distillery from there and connect to the steakhouse through lighted walking paths. I think it will ultimately be a great complex.”
This comes as Lolo Creek Steakhouse is set to be featured on an upcoming episode on the Food Network channel, for a new series called “Good Time on a Dime” with host Hannah Hart. A television crew recently spent an entire night filming the restaurant for the show, which will feature several other Missoula restaurants. An air date has not yet been announced.
“They spent a bunch of time with our customers and with our grillmaster,” Grunow explained. “They said we would probably be the third episode out of six. They spent a whole night with us. The place was packed to the hilt with standing-room-only diners. They were thrilled to death and they were totally impressed.”
The Lolo Creek Steakhouse was built in 1987 and Grunow and his wife Judy bought it about 12 years ago. Grunow has had several businesses in the Lolo area over the years, but he believes the town is seeing an unprecedented economic boost right now.
“We’re so busy anymore with the economy picking back up,” he said. “I’ve been in Lolo for 46 years. I built the shopping center when I was much younger and had several businesses over the years here and in Missoula. But in my discussions with people at the city and at the county level, there’s a general feeling that things are going to start migrating this direction down the Bitterroot. They seem to think there’s gonna be some nice growth here. You can just feel it changing, and that’s a good thing.”
Grunow said he believes his restaurant will nicely pair with the Lolo Peak Brewery nearby, of which he is a big fan.
“We carry their beer and we try to work in conjunction with each other,” he said.
He says the new distillery will have big open fire pits and could be a nice gathering spot on Highway 12. Grunow said he and his staff work hard to make sure nobody walks away dissatisfied.
“We were recently named the best steakhouse in Montana by the Tasting Table, which is a gourmet food and culinary blog based in New York with, like, 1,750,000 Facebook followers,” he said. “We think that’s really quite an honor. I’m blowing my own horn here, but it’s a nice feather in our cap.”
Over the last half-decade, four distilleries have opened up in the Missoula area, along with several craft cider producers. Several more distilleries popped up in the Flathead Lake area during that time as well, and Butte and Bozeman have both seen new producers and expanded operations. The trend even has the State of Montana’s official tourism website touting distilleries as a nice option.
Grunow said that while they haven’t got all their paperwork in order yet, he’s confident everything will go forward.
“We’ve had tremendous growth and a lot of it is attributed to our customers and our atmosphere,” he said.