New On The Menu: Breakfast at Starky's
Cassi Miller | Tuesday Mar. 1st, 2016
The day was a perfect winter postcard, the type that has Bozeman residents fighting off that insatiable powder fever. Soft, white blasts of snow burst from the sky covering all outside surfaces in under a half hour. With such an authentic day laying before me, it would seem fitting that I chose that morning to step into Starky’s Authentic Americana for spirited conversation and bottomless coffee with the ever-dedicated Kathy Stark. Let me tell you, if you want to talk passion and food with someone, Kathy is that someone. Her entire demeanor speaks to the pride and care she has for her restaurant, the people who work there, and the people who eat there. Although we were officially meeting for the very first time, our conversation moved with vibrancy and ease.
CM: Why the restaurant business? What drew you to food?
KS: Well, Glen and I have had a long-standing interest in food. Glen’s grandfather was actually a kosher butcher, you know the kind where you step inside the shop and get a whole display of meat preparation. While we were living in Detroit, Michigan, Glen was working for Morgan Stanley and I was a food writer, crafting recipes and newsletters and the like. We also ran a cooking school and gourmet shop in Royal Oak, Michigan. In 2000, we took a vacation to Montana and, like so many cliché stories about this area, we fell in love with Bozeman in a matter of 48 hours. While staying at Chico Hot Springs, we had a completely happenstance meeting with Mike Art, owner at the time.
Our kids were five and seven, and when we returned to Detroit we just kept thinking “why are we living here?” Mike and Glen continually emailed each other, him urging us to move to Bozeman and open a restaurant. At the time, Bozeman didn’t have a lot of variety in food options and Mike thought we could be successful doing what we do out there. So, we decided to sell everything and move to Montana. By our second week here, we had leased a space and decided to open a deli. A lot of people didn’t think we’d make it, but the first day we had a line out the door and around the block.
CM: Oh wow! Now, I know the breakfast program is the newest addition to your menu. Why did you decide to go with breakfast?
KS: You know, we’ve been approached to franchise this place. People are always saying we could open up a Starky’s here and here and there and here! But, we’re not looking to replicate that. This space, this restaurant, is uniquely ours. So, we decided we wanted to make use of the space in every way, vertical growth instead of outward growth. It just seemed like a natural addition. And we knew going into this that Bozeman has a strong, loyal breakfast community. Man, are people loyal to their breakfast places; there really isn’t a bad one in this town, especially downtown. But, we’re all friends and we all eat at each other’s places. Even knowing that environment, breakfast just seemed the natural thing for us to do.
CM: So, what would you say is the best thing about having a restaurant in Bozeman?
KS: Oh gosh, how much time do you have? You know, the restaurant business can be extremely difficult and grueling. Anyone who’s worked in the industry will tell you that. But, one of our biggest rules here, and this is going to sound so silly, is that you have to be nice to work here. You have to be nice; that’s it. It’s a strong code of value and you want to be surrounded by people you love. Do you know how easy that is to do in Bozeman? I think right now I have the strongest crew I have ever had. We’re sort of basking in the happiness of working with each other right now. We want to have fun. All it takes is one person to ruin the entire morale of a crew, but this group of people is behind me. We want to improve the quality of people’s day. I want to have a great day. That’s another wonderful thing about Bozeman. It’s that family/connection/community thing. Customers want those relationships. Bozeman is filled with warm, loyal, wonderful, kind people. Sometimes Glen and I will look around the room and go “look at who’s here. Look at these conversations happening!” People want to come here. It’s an everyday excitement of being here. I won’t let go of that. This business is personal and Bozeman keeps me in it.
CM: What do you think makes Starky’s unique?
KS: Well, we’re one of the few places in town that’s really super family friendly. This space is so versatile. We really do want it to be a meeting space. I can pull together tables for a group of 20 in 3 minutes if I have to. And, we’re food for everybody. We accommodate everything. We welcome substitutions to fit your eating needs. We’ll substitute until the dish doesn’t look anything like the original anymore! We fit every genre, yet we’re very approachable. Sometimes, you can put upscale items on the menu and people won’t order it because they don’t even know what it is. We are here to take care of you. Ours is simple, fresh, recognizable food that’s elevated. It’s not comfort food. It’s comfortable food.
CM: I love that. Now to finish, what would you say is the most popular dish on your menu? Let’s go with the lunch menu since you have such a dedicated crowd for that.
KS: Well it’s an interesting three-way tie. The customer favorite is the Reuben. There are about 100 different steps to making the perfect corned beef; it is definitely a labor of love. But when you bite into that thick rye, that velvety Russian dressing we make, and combine that with the pungent sweetness of the kraut and the tender corned beef, you are getting an experience. Now, the staff favorite is the baked salami sandwich. There’s so much going on there. Sweet, spicy, sharp, they love it. And, if you’re in search of the perfect breakfast, it is that Ideal Breakfast Sandwich. It’s like one big breakfast meal. It’ll fix what’s wrong with you!
After an exuberant conversation with Kathy, I took a moment to peruse the breakfast menu and settled on the Challah French Toast. It’s light, fluffy, not too filling and balanced well with fresh fruit and bacon. Don’t forget to add real maple syrup to make it a true experience. The powdered sugar coats in just the right amount and the bacon is crisped to perfection. After I inhaled my winter-perfect breakfast, I was able to have a quick chat with Elizabeth, the general back of house manager.
CM: So, what got you into food as a career?
EB: Well, I was one of seven children and the cooking just kind of fell to us. My great aunt was also a cook in a nursing home, so she really taught me a lot. Then, when I was 17, we got cable and I was all about Food Network! I attended culinary school and eventually settled here in Montana in 2005, but I have been involved with food in a lot of places. I’ve been in Alaska, Key West, out in Gallatin Gateway and now I’ve been here at Starky’s for the past six months. Montana serves two of my biggest addictions: morel mushroom season and huckleberry season.
CM: What do you love about working at Starky’s?
EB: Oh gosh, it’s so great here. The pride in food is almost unmatched. Everyone really cares about the food quality, about putting out good food for people. I might say it’s even better than your mama’s kitchen! It’s a healthy revolution here and it’s about working forward. It’s so nice to be in a place that embraces that. And we have such a strong team right now. I look forward to coming to work every day. It recharged me starting to work here and seeing that respect for fresh food and for the customers, really. This is the most cohesive team I have worked with. It’s the real deal.
Starky’s is definitely the real deal. The “authentic” in their name isn’t something hollow. It defines everything that they do. It’s the perfect descriptor for a place with heart, with pride, and with a passion for serving our community.