The Hip Strip just got a little less Hip.
The 515 Restaurant announced Wednesday night that it was unexpectedly serving its last supper — pork belly, cassoulet, trout, dumpling, rib eye, traditional crème brulee, fine wine — and then closing its kitchen for good.
A paper sign hung on the door Thursday morning, saying “Closed. Thank you. I love you guys!”
The inside of the old Crystal Theatre was dark with tables and chairs aligned as if customers might be welcomed in any time. But then chef and co-owner Paul Myers slowly opened the door.
All he could say was, “We value everybody’s patronage.”
Beyond that, well, it was just too fresh for him, too urgently defeating.
I assume this was not what he expected, especially after being nominated for one of the country’s highest culinary honors just days before, the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Northwest. Thousands of entries were mailed to the James Beard Foundation, but Billings-native Myers made it into the top 20, the lone Montanan. Other local awards called the 515 Missoula’s best restaurant, and Myers its best chef.
This isn’t the first time a local place like 515 has fallen through the cracks in Missoula, and it won’t be the last.
In an interview less than two weeks ago, Myers told me 515 was having a tough time getting customers, but that only meant his crew was just going to work even harder to make it happen because, he truly believed, Missoula would someday embrace their locally-minded restaurant.
I’ll be honest, the college budget I’ve had for about five years now kept me from checking out 515, and for a while there I wasn’t even sure what 515 was. Pizza and burgers are about as gourmet as I go. So when I first walked into the old Crystal Theatre-turned-restaurant I had no idea what to expect, especially once I was greeted by Myers’ young son “Frankie Blaze” who acted as quasi-host and welcomed me to “his” restaurant. I asked him if he was the famous chef, and he giggled and stuck both hands of fingers in his mouth. “No,” he replied. His mother Carrie came out from the kitchen and swept the young entrepreneur up, telling me her husband was downstairs.
I found Myers alone, quietly squeezing out fresh garlic sausage like a sculptor. He wiped his hands on his stained apron before shaking my hand. He began explaining to me why he had left the big city (New York and Seattle) to set up shop in Missoula.
He loves Missoula, he told me. He wants to raise his family here. He and 515 offer something different and he hoped Missoula would come to embrace that.
He told me about a new happy hour they had added, hoping to draw more customers. At 5:15 p.m. you could get a local-beef hamburger and hand-cut fries for $5.15, and local beers for a dollar off. Seeing an opportunity to ditch Burger King and feel better both physically and mentally about myself, I quickly came aboard. I wasn’t the only one.
An award-winning restaurant owned by locals striving to remain local. Sounds undeniably Missoulian to me. No doubt Myers’ talent will be gobbled up by restaurateurs in bigger markets like Seattle or Portland, but his heart will remain in Montana, a love that didn’t quite support his labor.
So it goes.