BUTTE — There’s a new owner at the M&M Bar & Café in Uptown Butte.
Butte businessman Ray Ueland, who purchased the Main Street tavern in 2015 after its previous owner foreclosed on the property, sold the bar to Selina Pankovich in early December.
Pankovich has been bartending at the establishment for two years and has served as an information specialist at Butte’s Community, Counseling, & Correctional Services for nine.
Ueland said when he purchased the M&M three years ago, he did not intend on owning the bar and café forever.
He simply wanted to save the M&M, get it back on its feet and pass the torch on to a new owner.
“This needs to be open for Butte, Montana,” said Ueland, recalling the day he decided to purchase the bar.
Behind the scenes, Ueland said, Pankovich has contributed to the M&M’s repositioning as a Butte fixture.
The former bartender helped come up with the idea for Music on Main, a weekly summer concert series put on by a group of Uptown businesses, Ueland said, adding that without her help and the help of the bar’s former general manager Dave Andrews, he wouldn’t have been able to make the M&M a successful enterprise.
Through their years of working together, Ueland said, he often suggested that Pankovich take over the M&M. But it wasn’t until 2017 that the former bartender began to earnestly consider taking up the offer.
Pankovich said she took about six months to think it over, and finally she decided to take a leap of faith.
“You’re buying a legacy and I know there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” said Pankovich.
Both Pankovich and Ueland described the M&M as a place where people come to relive their memories of growing up in Butte.
Established in 1890, the M&M for many residents was a 24-hour, working-class joint where you could get a bite to eat after a night out on the town.
“It was packed,” said Ueland, recalling the M&M of his youth.
The M&M was also known as a gambling hub, Ueland said, noting that gambling took place in a speakeasy above the bar during Prohibition, according to Butte legend.
Pankovich says she wants to honor M&M’s legacy as much as possible.
“I want to see it back to where it was — I want to see people lined up on the stools,” said the new owner.
Pankovich has already extended the grill’s hours to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, reaffirming the bar’s after-hours status.
In addition, she has added pull tabs to the gaming side of the business and hopes to add live poker and other live games in the future.
Patrons of the M&M should also be on the lookout for the addition of appetizers to the menu.
The bar and café will host a pint night Friday, Pankovich said, during which patrons can try seven different appetizers that she is considering for the M&M’s menu. Patrons can vote on their favorites or make a suggestion.
As for Ueland, he said he looks at the changing of the guard at the M&M as another “successful downsize” as he winds down decades of ownership in the restaurant industry.
Ueland opened his first restaurant in 1983, and has owned six Perkins locations across the state of Montana. Today he has “downsized” to just one Perkins location and is also co-owner of Metals Sports Bar and Grill on Park Street, among other ventures.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t have a bit of seller’s remorse, Ueland said, laughing.
Pankovich, meanwhile, said Ueland will always be the guy who saved the M&M.
“Ray kind of was a hero,” said Pankovich.
Pankovich, who grew up in Anaconda, said working at the M&M has reaffirmed her connection to southwest Montana.
“To wait on people regularly, knowing that this was a destination of theirs… it gave me a whole different perspective on where I am from and made me feel really proud to be from here,” said Pankovich.
Every now and then, she said, some customers will come through the doors, whether former Butte residents visiting family on the holidays or Montana Tech graduates just passing through, and she can tell immediately they have a history at the M&M because it’s written all over their faces.
“To see them walk through the door and stop and relive some memories, it’s a feeling that I hope never, ever goes away,” Pankovich said.