Hoping for Success in Simplicity

By Beacon Staff

When Cafe Max Soup Company and the Blue Cow car wash open in the first week of February, the business plan will be simple: Pick one thing and do it well.

The owners of Capers restaurant, a downtown Kalispell bistro, will be taking over the former Blue Cow Cafe that closed along with the Blue Cow car wash almost two years ago. Doug and Vonnie Day’s focus will be soups: a dozen choices every day ranging from foreign specialties to soups with local ingredients like yak and buffalo meat. The car wash will reopen under its previous ownership around the same time.

“The idea is to put all our attention into a few things and do high-quality work,” Doug said. “The food can be fast, and the menu can be simple, and you can still have delicious food.”

Blue Cow owner Mike Brown said he hopes bringing in the Days to run the restaurant will help the car wash simplify and succeed in its second go-around. “You can’t be the jack of all trades and the master of none. We had too many things going when we first opened trying to do both the café and the car wash. We couldn’t even keep the two staffed.”

Soup ladels hang in the kitchen of the new Cafe Max Soup Company in the former Blue Cow Cafe location on U.S. Highway 93.

The Blue Cow car wash and café first opened in the 20,000-square-foot complex just off U.S. Highway 93 near the hospital in January 2005, but closed 14 months later. Other businesses – a dry cleaners, photo shop, and framing store – have remained in operation, while the Blue Cow space sat empty.

For the Days, Cafe Max Soup Company is a chance to revive the name and style, respectively, from two of their past businesses. The couple operated an upscale restaurant called Cafe Max in the current Capers location for 10 years before shifting to a more relaxed bistro style and renaming the business more than a year ago. The old Cafe Max was noted for, among several other dishes, Doug’s soups.

The new Cafe Max will resemble the old only in name and, for former customers, with some familiar soups. “I don’t think a week has gone by since we closed Cafe Max that people haven’t asked if Doug is ever going to do a certain soup again,” Vonnie said.

Cafe Max Soup Company will maintain the market-style lunch counter of the Blue Cow Cafe. Recipes will include classic favorites like chicken and dumpling and tomato with roasted garlic, as well as others like smoked salmon and corn chowder, Tuscan white bean with Italian bacon and thyme and shrimp and roasted red pepper bisque from Doug’s cache of more than 125 soup recipes. Last week, Doug worked on perfecting a Cuban black bean with pulled pork and rice soup, stirring the mixture in a 40-gallon steam kettle and jotting notes.

Cafe Max Soup Company will use the current infrastructure of the former Blue Cow Cafe. The new specialty soup restaurant is one of several businesses in the complex, including the Blue Cow Car Wash that will be reopening soon.

Along with a dozen soups a day – which will rotate by season – the café will feature breads from Ceres bakery, salads and three types of sandwiches served on baguettes. Soups will be available in chilled quarts for people to take and heat at home. “If someone’s having people over for dinner then they can pick up soup and not worry about the first course. Just throw some drops on their apron and serve,” he said.

While different from the former Cafe Max, the new soup company is similar to a soup line Doug ran in Seattle. Located in a private office complex, lines would string out the door during lunch rush and Doug had fun playing a less strict version of Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” though he’s quick to note he was playing the rough-façade before the show.

“When people took too long in line I’d say, ‘Two spots back,’ and it just took off. There were a lot of regulars and they’d come in and set their friends up,” he said.

It’s not necessarily the direction Doug plans on taking in the Kalispell location, but he does hope to build a relaxed, community feel among customers. Photos of locals eating Café Max soups will cover the walls of the restaurant and the couple hopes the location will be perfect for those who like to sit and eat or take it to go.

“Soup by nature is always centered in community,” Doug said. “It’s comfort food, it’s healthy and it’s meant for sharing.”