After 15 years of operation, Missoula restaurant owner calls it quits
It's gone. It's over. And Missoula will have to go elsewhere for breakfast.
Yes, Missoula, Ram Murphy has closed the Old Town Cafe and should have the building sold by Monday afternoon.
"I've been fortunate to serve my customers for 20 years, but it's time to do something else," Murphy said this week. "I hope the other breakfast places pick it up."
The downtown Missoula stalwart, a destination where friends gathered by the hundreds on weekends for veggie browns, omelets and whole wheat pancakes has been shut since March, when Murphy took a vacation to Arizona.
When he returned, he had an offer for the business he had been trying to sell for months. So he kept the doors locked and hung a sign. Soon, a collage of Post-it notes appeared on the door from customers who expected the favorite restaurant to be open. Most redirected friends to other nearby cafes or coffee shops.
"I just appreciate so much the support of the Old Town customers who gave us so much. They've been wonderful," Murphy explained. "I'm grateful to everybody who looked upon us in such a positive light for the past 15 years. I wish there had been a different way to do this."
But there wasn't.
Instead of reopening for a brief two weeks, he opted for a quiet closing, telling a few friends and his most loyal customers that he would no longer be serving breakfast, or, for that matter, turkey bowls for lunch.
He sold the restaurant to Beth and Susan Higgins, who run the Two Sisters Cafe in Babb, a tourist burg about four miles north of St. Mary's on the eastern flank of Glacier National Park.
Murphy said he wants to help his wife, well-known watercolorist Kendahl Jan Jubb, with her business. He'll administer her Web page, www.kendahljubb.com, and handle the marketing and selling of her paintings which decorated the walls of the Old Town.
The two met at the Old Town in 1979, when Murphy took a job as a cook while Jubb had been waiting tables there for a year. It was her first job.
They married, bought the restaurant in 1985 with partner Scott Wilson, and turned it into a family-run business. In 1990, they bought out Wilson's stake.
In 1994, they remodeled the back of the building and doubled their seating. On a busy weekend morning, Murphy cooks more than 45 dozen eggs for about 650 customers.
Their son, Loka, was second cook for years until he married last autumn and moved to Seattle. Daughter Daisy, like her mom, has had only one job, busing and waiting tables at the Old Town. She has spent half of her 30 years working for her father.
"Everybody kind of watched me grow up," she said.
Last summer, she married Peter Kesel, owner of Kesel's Four Rivers fishing shop, and now Ram wants her to raise a family without having to report to the cafe every morning.
"Without my son here, it just isn't the same," he said. "He brought fire and energy to the business, and I really miss that."
"And I want Daisy to do what's right for her … committing to her family," he added.
He wants to help Kendahl's successful career, too.
Her work, brilliant watercolors of birds, flowers and animals, hangs in museums, homes and offices across the country. By handling more of the business matters, Murphy said he hopes to free Kendahl to paint without worrying about the day-to-day matters of marketing and selling.
"We're going to be more assertive," Kendahl said.
"I love to write and I love business," said Murphy, who last year turned 50. "Running the restaurant is a lot of work and a physical workout."
So which restaurant will he refer customers to?
"I won't say," he smiled. "First, I would recommend people stay home for breakfast. Now that I'm not here in the morning, I realize that home is a great place to eat."
When the Higgins sisters reopen the restaurant, it won't be for breakfast.
"It's lunch and dinner for us," said Beth, a trained chef. "Ram did such a terrific job with breakfast that we didn't want to be compared and maybe have people confused or disappointed."
The new cafe will be called Two Sisters, and could be open by May after a remodeling job, which will include patio seating in the rear of the restaurant.
The menu will have dishes ranging from vegan and vegetarian, to classic meat dishes cooked over charcoal grills that will be installed. The restaurant will use as much local produce as possible and the women are trying to land a cabaret license to serve beer and wine.
Specialties will be baked goods, including desserts of pie, pastries and cakes, along with espresso.
Beth, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, has owned the Babb restaurant for eight years, employing many university students who want to spend summers at Glacier.
"It has been just a seasonal business and we wanted to be year-round," she said. "We like the feel of Missoula's downtown. It seems right."