Exude Love: Cateye Cafe
Cassi Miller | Thursday Dec. 1st, 2016
Do you know that feeling when you just instantly click with someone you’ve never met before? There’s trepidation in going to a new place or meeting someone new, and if they are able to help in some way by cutting through that nervousness quickly and with minimal effort, you find yourself having fun before you even realize it. Now, the Cateye Café isn’t new to me by any means. Many a morning have I spent there with girlfriends laughing over bubbly mimosas, and I often take out-of-town guests and family there for the true morning treat: banana bread French toast. But, I had never met the owners, Tina and Kevin Caracciolo, before this interview. So, stepping into the cozy Cateye on a cloudy November afternoon, I didn’t know what to expect of them. Add to that feeling of the unknown that I was late for our interview for the first time since I started writing for Bozeman Magazine, and I was a bit flustered.
Instantly, I was treated like an old friend. They were seated around a table in the quiet of the closed restaurant with their friend Deb. They ribbed me about being late, but laughed it off and pulled up a chair for me. For another first, they actually asked me a question before I was able to question them about anything. They asked me if I had ever eaten at the Cateye before. I assured them I had been in many times before, and from there we were off on our little culinary storytelling adventure.
CM: What made you want to get into the restaurant business?
TC: Well, Kevin had been working in the restaurant business since he was 16. He was the baby in his family of seven children, and his mom was a great cook.
KC: Yeah, my mom was a great cook, so it is kind of in my blood. She stayed home, cooked and cleaned, the kids always helping out, and it just kind of became what I do and what I know. So, it was easy for me to just step into the restaurant business. It was unique to think of this as a job though. I mean, I get a meal and a break? I thought that was great! I remember working at the original Bacchus Pub in the Baxter, and sitting down to those delicious spaghetti and meatballs was such a perk of the job! I also worked at John Bozeman’s Bistro in the 80s and 90s, and at the Spanish Peaks for about nine years before they closed. I’ve run a kitchen, I’ve bussed, I’ve pretty much done it all. Food is a real community for me.
TC: As for our time with Cateye, we got a call from Christina, the original owner about a business opportunity. Kevin had worked there for five or six years and Christina wanted to know if we wanted to buy the place. We said we would do it on a trial basis because, you know, we wanted to see if we could really do it, if we could make it work. 13 years later, here we are!
CM: What do you enjoy most about being a part of Bozeman and the food community here?
TC: Well, I’m a Bozeman native.
KC: And we of course love anything outdoors. We love the mountain biking, skiing, all those outdoor activities.
TC: But the small town, food community feel here is really great. All the restaurants downtown and in Bozeman support each other. Sure, we’re in competition, but we also help each other out all the time. If someone runs out of something and needs to borrow it from us, they know they can. If we are short on something and need to dash over to someone else for it, they are happy to help. We all understand that. It’s fun. And the summer life of this town is always a unique experience. It is really great to see this downtown area thriving. You see the liveliness and this explosion of life; it’s amazing to watch. Plus, we have one of the best locations in town. From this block, we can see all the fun happenings of downtown. It really is a great perspective.
CM: So, what makes the Cateye unique in the Bozeman food scene?
TC: US! We are a family. We try our best to give off that sense of family. It’s a nice mix of a little harassment and a little humor. Our customers know that about us and appreciate that.
KC: But also, the staff. We have to give a lot of credit to our staff because they are amazing. We have virtually no staff turnover. We have a server who has been here over 10 years. Our cook has been here 9 plus years. Our sons and daughters have been a part of the staff. It really is a family.
TC: It’s love! They love their job and we love them.
KC: And, we’re pretty old school, too. We run on an old school system. We don’t have a computer system here, so the servers are all working on mental math.
TC: It’s like a ‘50s diner in a way. We were once described as a “cool, kitschy, fun spot” and I always liked that. That whole collective is great.
CM: So what do you want people to experience here?
TC: We want people to feel like they are at home. We want them to feel like they are eating breakfast around the kitchen table. This is their home. And we want them to appreciate our hard work. We put a lot of heart and soul into our food. All of our heart and soul goes into that. We give 100% on everything. Everyone exudes love here and everyone who works here really loves it. From us right down to the dishwasher, they give it their all. We don’t even care what you wear. Come in your pajamas if you want! Be comfortable.
KC: We just want everyone to be happy.
TC: Yes! We want you to come happy and go away happy. We’re not something new and fancy. We are classic and eclectic. I mean, their experience here could change their whole morning. All it takes is a really good, hot cup of coffee to change someone’s day. We hope our smile and our laughter can set the tone of their day if they come to us in the morning. And we want them to leave here telling everyone about their experience here.
CM: One last thing: is there anything you really want people to know? Like, what’s your most popular dish?
TC: Well, the number one is definitely the banana bread French toast. And even though we are known for our breakfasts, we have some pretty amazing lunches, too. People should also know all of our soups are gluten-free. And our salads! Oh, our salads are so good! Have you had the Bird Catcher? My goodness, it is such a good salad! It’s got pesto chicken, Kalamata olives, carrots, cabbage, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, tomatoes, red onions. You have to try it some time.
KC: But, you know, it’s not just about one dish. We strive so hard for consistency in our food. Whenever possible, we make everything in house. We try to keep as much of our ingredients as local as possible.
TC: We know right where the beef comes. It comes off my brother’s ranch in Wilsall. We know where our food is coming from.
KC: You know, we’ve been really fortunate here in Bozeman. We’ve become a real staple place in Bozeman. We’re really grateful for the people and we are proud of what we’ve accomplished here.
By the end of our conversation, my sides hurt. I have never laughed so hard and so often in an interview before. If you have never been to the Cateye Café before, go there. If you used to go but haven’t been in for a while, return. Kevin and Tina are good, honest people. They care about what they do and they care about the people who work for them. They are hard-working and fun-loving. It really is all about love for them. They exude love.