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515 Restaurant, We Hardly Knew Ye
Photo by Emily Haas

515 Restaurant, We Hardly Knew Ye

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.

About Dillon Tabish

Comments

  1. Jonathan Weber says:

    This is sad news indeed, 515 was a terrific addition to the local food scene. I even ate the pork belly, which, while not for everyone, or even for me more than once, was awesome.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for creative restaurants to make it in Missoula. Any theories on that?

    I salute Paul Myers for his talent and his efforts, and as a fellow entrepreneur I empathize with what I know must be a very difficult and painful situation.

  2. Derek says:

    This sucks. I just moved here and was really looking forward to going there to eat next week. And the week after. And…

    Hrmpf.

  3. El says:

    The article doesn’t really address the “why” of the closing. If the owner was quoted as planning on working harder to get people in just two weeks ago it would seem that there might be something else at play? I hope we get some follow-up reporting.

  4. john says:

    Quite a loss to Missoula’s dining. Best steak in town, damnit, now its gone. It’s sad to lose a talented young and local chef. Good luck, Paul and Carrie, whereever you take it.

    Too bad someone who had actually eaten at the restaurant couldn’t have written this column.

  5. uncle scar says:

    it’s a sad, sad, story. I was lucky enough to be there for “the last supper”, and it was as delicious as always. good luck to paul, carrie, brae, and all the newly unumployed staff. some photos from that last nigh here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21840550@N03/sets/72157604169034755/

  6. Gary Fee says:

    Those of us in Missoula who are lovers of great food and fine wine are in mourning with the closing of 515. I’m sure that this is just a minor set back in a culinary career destined to achieve greatness. But for the rest of my life I will be proud to tell everyone I meet about those marvelous but all too brief 17 months when we had legitimately world class cuisine in Missoula from Paul and Carrie Meyers. Good luck my friends, and thank you for the gift of your consumable artistry. It was great while it lasted.

  7. Zed says:

    We will fondly remember your audacious creativity, Paul. And those pork bellies …. mmmmm. Thanks!

  8. Colin Hickey says:

    Quite possibly some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Three of the nicest people to ever run a restaurant. You shall be missed.

  9. M says:

    Sad indeed. The steak I had there a few weeks ago changed my life. Thanks 515, I hope you return and change even more food lives.

  10. Shane Hickey says:

    Cram. I can’t describe how bummed I am by this. We’d been trying to eat at 515 at least once every week or two because a) it was without question some of the best food I’d ever eaten and b) we really wanted it to succeed. I’m going to miss that Rib Eye, Meatloaf sandwich, risotto and the world’s greatest french fries. 515, my family will miss the hell outta ya.

  11. Josh Vanek says:

    Paul, Carrie and Brae and staff: Please keep your chins up. You slogged through a year plus of running an awesome place, and put smiles on lots of peoples faces, and put Missoula on the culinary map in way that very few restaurants here do.

    It’s incredibly sad to see a place that takes a local, ethical and creative approach to food and drink go under, and I hope to god it doesn’t speak to the encroaching yuppification of Missoula.

    Something tells me as business rental costs continue to rise to ridiculously inflated levels, family operations like 515 are going to be really, really squeezed, and our choices will continue to get worse and worse, see also Ciao Mambo, et al. Please support the independent folks (Blackbird, Betty’s, Big Dipper, Biga, Shakespeare, Ear Candy, the Badlander, Walking Stick, Nature Boy, Bernices, etc. etc.) who pour their time, resources and love into making Missoula what it is. A vibrant place where you can get a burger made from local beef, or pork belly, or squash soup, or seasonal vegetables, or you know, the list went on and on until recently. Just because one can get a burger and a Pabst for around $6-7 lots of places, doesn’t mean that food/drink is anywhere near the kind of economic engine for where we live that the local stuff is, or for that matter, that it’s anything near the flavor and quality of what 515 dished up.

    Uggggh.

  12. Paul Myers chef owner 515 says:

    thanks everyone for your patronage. This project was much too short. We will miss you. We love you. Keep supporting the arts.

  13. Molly Bradford says:

    And just when I had found the perfect squash soup! You’ll find greatness wherever you go… and greatness will surely find you!

  14. Nature Broad says:

    Dear Paul, Carrie, Brae and 515′ers, if you’re reading this – I’m sorry. Sorry that your much deserved success didn’t arrive in time. Unfortunately, this town is an an anomaly in that the people who loved you best couldn’t afford to be regular patrons. And those who could didn’t venture past the norm. All the sadder for us, because we know what we’ll be missing. Don’t give up the ghost and don’t lose your vision – you have many admirers and friends who believe in you.

  15. j9 says:

    Brae, Carrie, Paul-
    You are and will always be rock stars. And to the family that you created and became, although dysfunctional as the best of them, I will forever be grateful. I love you and all the 515 staff.
    xoxo j9

  16. danzig says:

    with the luck of some friends in the know, my husband (see uncle scar and pictures above) and i were lucky enough to get in to eat on that last night. the food, as always, was cooked with love and perfection but it was one of the sadest wakes i’ve ever been to. the pain on the faces of the owners, cooks and wait staff was almost too much to bear. we’ll miss all your yummy food and the chance to check out the new spring menu. you always surprised us and we feel fortunate that we were able to enjoy your food and your presence for the last year and 1/12.
    much love,
    danzig

  17. Jen says:

    While the food was good, the prices were high. I believe the cheapest glass of wine was $9- that may fly in SF or Seattle but a bit stiff for Missoula. Maybe more options at the lower end would have helped.

    Painting over Sheila Miles paintings with Gray was a mistake. I felt the atmosphere was more institutional and uninviting. I also didn’t thing the exterior with the 1960′s cedar siding added to the historic building could get any worse, until the 515 owner painted it black.

  18. brae says:

    THANK YOU MISSOULA!!!! thanks to everyone who helped us live our dream! we could have never done it as long as were able to without guys!! Had a hell of a run. We met so many amazing people and had so many great times… love to everyone!! DREAM BIG its worth it!!!

  19. Jenny says:

    So very sad. Missoulians really do want to support this type of food and restaurant concept- many similar restaurants are succeeding- Scotty’s, Red Bird, Pearl… I agree with Jen that the interior was institutional and too much like the inversion we are all too familiar with. With exceptional cooking talent like that at 515, a cozy and inviting space completes the experience and makes people feel okay with paying the extra $. I believe that with the right ingredients, a restaurant of this caliber in Missoula (like Scotty’s) WILL succeed. Good luck to Paul and the 515 staff. Can’t wait to see what pops up in that space next…

  20. Kimberly James says:

    “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.”

    Huh! Who knew? We could have done that from time to time. I agree that the atmosphere might have been an issue. Also, the prices were too high for us to eat there on a regular basis.

    It will be missed.

  21. Brandon Chamberlain says:

    Paul, Carrie, Brae and the rest of the fam…
    What to say? Thanks for letting me be a part of it. Won’t ever forget the late night family meals, kick-ass people, trout salad, tallboys, dancing outlaw, special water and on and on. Sad they never got it. Inimitable place and time. See you on the other coast sometime I hope. Love you all,
    Brandon

  22. Tom Porter says:

    What a blow to Missoula – make that Montana…we just discovered the closing. It’s April 5 and yes, we live under a rock in a place called “Bozeman”. We just arrived in Missoula this afternoon for our quarerly pilgrimage to the 515. Pork belly, Hudson Valley Foie, Chicken on a Waffle, graperuit curd, bacon-n-egg ice cream and a thoughful and personal wine list to go with it all…I think one of our servers summed it up best: “it’s about the food”. Which, I suppose in this world of unrelenting hipsters, could be a problem.

    It’s funny, a well-dressed (although not entirely well-spoken) Missoula store clerk admitted to us today (as we were walking around downtown mumbling “what do we do now???) that the menu really didn’t have anything she “liked” and the atmosphere was kind of “lacking”. Oh well, she is, I suppose, entilted to her opinion.

    In my opinion, is that great restaurants like 515 are not always about what you “like” but more about the opportunity to take part in a sort of edible performance art; cuisine that one must usually travel to NYC or SF to enjoy. I suppose that all this comes at a price. But let me assure you, my town of Bozeman is flush with $9 cocktails, restaurants with hip inviting atmospheres and $35 entrees…most of them simply gilded lillies compared to the creative and tasty chow served up in a friendly and personal environment created by the good folks at 515.

    Beef tenderloin with a huckleberry reduction, anyone? Throw a rock in any direction.

    Pork belly?

    Hello???

    Is anyone there???

    Goodbye 515, we’ll miss you.

  23. Cherry Adams says:

    You’re right EL – very astute. They are having issues. They have a $41K tax lein on their backs because Brae Bullard failed to pay payroll taxes. So, as great a “white hope” as this guy and restaurant may have been, they were all show and no go.. they weren’t ready to become restaurateurs, let alone the winner of a James Beard award. And the inconsistency and cracks were only the beginning.

  24. GF says:

    Regarding the comments left by Cherry Adams -
    Brae Bullard’s failures were hardly a reflection on the chef or the cuisine offered from the kitchen. James Beard Awards and nominations for these awards are not given for restaurant business skills; they are given for demonstrating excellence in being a chef in the culinary arts. That’s why Paul Meyer was nominated for the “Chef of the Year” award and not restauranteur of the year. “all show and no go”?…. Ms. Adams, the sound of your ignorance is deafening.

  25. brae says:

    Gary & Cherry
    Over staffing and a collective inability to sustain with in the given budget was the demise of 515. No one single handedly ran the business into the debt that ultimately closed the doors. The failure is reflective of all three owners, and the choices made by each.

  26. J says:

    The first ultra-basic steps of running a business is to set aside money for taxes. To not do this is just stupid.

    Other basics include realistic marketing. The fact is, that most people learned about 515 when closed.

    I ate there twice. Each time the service was HORRIBLE.
    It was the sort of place where the waitresses had an attitude that they were artists or actresses, yet were so talentless that they couldn’t artfully act like waitresses. For the ultra high (for missoula) prices, service should have been much, much better. Otherwise, no matter how good the food, it is no different than going to a finnagen/4B’s type place and having plates slapped down in front of you.

    I’ve lived in missoula for over 30 years and have always liked going to good restaurants, as much for the atmosphere and hospitality, as for the food. As many people who like eating out, I can cook for myself and family quite well, but I go out for something more. Sadly, 515 was plagued by waitpersons who were arrogant and lazy; the chefs may have been able to survive in NYC or Seattle, but their wait staff would never have made it.

    I would have gladly gone to 515 many more times, and have encouraged my friends and employees (read: I have money and hang out with people with money), the place, in the end, was
    1) badly run as a business
    2) invisible
    3) arrogant
    4) rude.

    Missoula can support a high class restaurant, however the 515 was just lame. regardless of what others (like the writer of this article who by his own admission never ate a meal there nor frequents high-end places) thought; their opinions come from lack of experience with truly great restaurants.