By JUSTIN FRANZ for the Flathead Beacon
Last year, on a rainy spring day, Julie Smith sat at the old wooden bar at Tiebuckers Pub and Eatery in Somers and shared memories from the previous 20 years. She recalled repairing the old house she and her husband, Barry, bought in 1991 and how he worked in the kitchen while she waited tables, pregnant with their second daughter.
In its time, Tiebuckers had become a Somers staple and for a while served fine cuisine before moving to more traditional pub fare. That was until Aug. 31 of this year, when the Smiths closed the doors for good.
“For us, personally, it was time to move on,” she said. “You need to have the drive and excitement of something new and different.”
“New and different” is the Tree Frog Tavern on U.S. Highway 2, just west of downtown Kalispell. The Smiths purchased the building this past spring and had a soft opening on Sept. 29. Since then, the Smiths and their staff of 28 have been building a solid client base and are planning for a grand opening in the coming weeks.
The Tree Frog Tavern includes a bar and full kitchen, where they’ll prepare traditional pub fare. It’s open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., except on Sundays, when the tavern closes at 8 p.m. Food service usually ends an hour or so before last call at the bar. The tavern allows customers 18 years old and up.
Although Tiebuckers had a strong following, the economic downturn hit the restaurant hard. That, along with the urge to start something new, is what made Julie and Barry buy the old Sizzler building west of town. But having a new building (Tiebuckers’ old home was built in 1929 by the Somers Lumber Company) didn’t mean there was time to kick back in the months before the new tavern’s opening;
“The building had been vacant for four years and it needed some TLC. We gutted it and started over,” Julie said, adding that loyal Tiebuckers’ regulars often helped. “We asked for a lot of help and by golly we got it. It’s been really humbling.”
While they were remodeling the old Sizzler, they were still running the pub in Somers, where one night Julie, Barry and a few friends sat around the bar trying to come up with a name for the new restaurant. They had even gone as far as cutting up little pieces of paper with the words “Tiebuckers,” “Pub” and “Eatery” and rearranging them, but nothing seemed to fit. Finally, a few weeks later, Barry thought back to a pub he and Julie frequented in the 1970s, when they were both living in California: the Tree Frog Tavern. Julie remembered the good times they had there and agreed it was the perfect fit.
The new tavern also has some new conveniences, including a point-of-sale system, although Julie has another, less appropriate name for it when it doesn’t work. Now the wait staff takes orders using a tablet which instantly sends the order to the bar or kitchen.
The system is meant to make things faster and Julie said as the staff becomes familiar with the the program it will do just that.
Julie says until they are accustomed to the new operation, the menu will remain straightforward and simple, ensuring quality service and superior food. And if regulars of the old Tiebuckers are worried they won’t see their old friends at work, Julie said that’s not going to be an issue.
“We’re still a mom and pop place,” she said. “Yes, it’s larger, but Barry and I are still hands on, working double shifts.”
Julie and Barry have high hopes for their new tavern, and looking at the lively dining room, those aspirations may not be far off. But leaving a place you’ve grown to love after two decades isn’t always easy, and looking around the new dining room, Julie’s mind still wanders back to Tiebuckers in Somers.
“I do miss the charm of the old place,” Julie said. “But the Tree Frog is building its own charm.”