A Tradition Returns
I love food. The passion people have for it, the connections and love it fosters between chefs and diners, the act of sharing a meal with friends and family—it all creates a one-of-a-kind experience. I also live in Belgrade. As much enjoyment as that little town gives me, we lament the lack of variety in places where we can have a dining out experience. Don’t get me wrong; we have some amazing fan-favorite restaurants with completely devoted followings, but we’ve watched so many places come and go that often times a night out for foodies of Belgrade involves a road trip.
Recently, there’s been a buzz about town. The Mint Café and Bar, the iconic staple of downtown Belgrade with its classic neon sign, is open . . . again. Now, we’ve been fooled twice before. A pair of times the Mint has reopened and shuttered its doors hastily, leaving the fine people of Belgrade in a lurch in the quest for good food. However, this time feels different. Three friends who’ve known each other for a combined 20-plus years and have worked together in various other food and drink endeavors (Montana Ale Works or Pizza Campania ring any mouth-watering bells?) have seized an opportunity to serve Belgrade once again. Joe Barnett, a partner in that formidable trio, discussed the hopes, goals, and foodie delights that await patrons at the newly minted Mint.
CM: What drew you and your partners to The Mint? To Belgrade?
JB: Above all, the space, its history and its character. Noah, Albert, and I have been working as Sidecar Bar Service for a few years now as sort of a test run. It answered the question can we do something in the food and drink industry and make it work together? We’ve all worked with each other in previous projects, but this was the real test. The Mint came up for sale last March and we saw it as an opportunity. We jumped in and said let’s do this. We got the keys from the previous owner in April, and then came the learning process. We love spaces with history and personality and character, and the Mint definitely has all that. We wanted something located in the central Gallatin Valley and we are learning more about Belgrade every day. We are committed to this community and the people who live here. We want people from the local school districts, from local businesses, and veterans to feel a part of this place. We are here to resurrect the beloved heritage of The Mint.
CM: What makes The Mint unique?
JB: The history. This building has been around since 1904. In started as a diner for the railroad workers. They’d come in here searching for a hot shower and a hot meal, respite from the long days. Since then, it’s always been a community gathering place. The community of Belgrade has such a strong sentimentality toward this place; they own this space. So many people have come up to us in the past few weeks saying that it’s good to have it back. It just has that authenticity. If you look around the dining room, we hung all of these photographs we dug up from the basement of Open Range, thanks to Jay Bentley, to commemorate the people. You’ll see Sam Ferraro, Claudia Williams, and a slew of others who helped make the Mint what it is. And of course that neon marquee. We said if we did this, we weren’t changing the name and we were keeping that marquee. It’s such a beacon for the restaurant.
CM: What do you like best about working in the bar and restaurant business?
JB: The interaction with the community is so powerful when it comes to working in bars and restaurants. I’m a fairly social guy, so I’ve always valued those interactions. The three of us have spent our first few weeks in here talking to people, asking them how they like the food, how they like the feel of this place, and they respond honestly and whole-heartedly. Being a part of that is something special. It keeps me in this business every day.
CM: What do you want people to experience here?
JB: Genuine hospitality, first and foremost. This is a place for the people and we want them to come in here and feel comfortable. We want Belgrade residents to come back in here and feel welcome. Of course we’re going to work to serve great food and drinks every single day, but the people make the experience. Already, we’re seeing people return, sometimes four days a week, to come see us. We already have more dedicated regulars in our first few weeks than I’ve had at previous restaurants. That’s saying something.
CM: Any future plans or changes coming up for The Mint?
JB: Well, we’ve been open just about six weeks now, and we just extended our hours to be open seven days a week. We’re also working on nightly specials and we want to bring back the classic Burger and Beer Night that was so beloved during the Jay Bentley days. We’ve also begun a happy hour program with $5 appetizers, $3 beers and cocktails, and $4 glasses of wine. We hope to draw that late afternoon/early evening crowd and really give them a place they want to come to. We’ll be playing more with and expanding the menu. We’ve redone the seating on the dining side of the space, and we’re working to complete a private dining room that can host parties of about 10-14 people. That will be finished very soon. We also want to get some live music back in here, so that will hopefully be happening in the near future.
CM: As a last question, what’s the most popular dish on the menu currently?
JB: Interestingly, the meatloaf. It’s a pork and beef blend and the people who love it really love it. They won’t even look at a menu anymore. They’ll sit down and immediately order. We’re also working on developing a pot roast and some other pasta dishes. We want more approachable, mid-range fair that people can enjoy in addition to the great steaks and burgers.
Though food connoisseurs in Belgrade have had high hopes before, I think it’s safe to say that Belgrade residents should be extremely excited about the new ownership but classic vibe of The Mint Cafe and Bar. These partners are in it for the food, drink, and dining experience that name brings. In fact, the whole of the Gallatin Valley can revel in the return of traditions.