BIGFORK – Sometimes the best recipe is grandma’s. Or great-grandma’s. Maybe mom’s or dad’s.
Karie Stidham, one of three managing partners at Bigfork’s Pocketstone Café, understands the value of keeping family recipes alive, particularly if they’re as good as the ones from her forebears. And fortunately she’s not greedy with her family secrets.
In fact, she invites you to try them at the Pocketstone, even if certain elements have been tweaked to accommodate restaurant production levels. Pocketstone is the culmination of years of cooking for friends and relatives – years of harboring a dream to run her own restaurant.
“I kind of thought it would stay a dream or if it happened it would be much smaller than this,” Stidham said. “It all worked out with Dave and Carolyn.”
Stidham runs Pocketstone with Dave and Carolyn Vale. Dave Vale said after he retired from business in the Midwest and East Coast, he made his way to Bigfork where, he discovered, he still felt like running a business.
“I got tired of being retired,” Vale said.
So Vale poked around in search of a business idea and bumped into Stidham, whose restaurant dream seemed a perfect match for Vale’s entrepreneurial instincts. Then the building at 444 Electric Ave. opened up and destiny couldn’t be denied.
“Everything kind of coalesced to put us here,” Vale said.
At the time, Stidham was in the construction business, where she has spent much of her working life. Her work resume includes drywall work, masonry and business management. But until Pocketstone, cooking was reserved for her personal time.
Dave Vale has also incorporated his recipes into the menu, but he says he brings more of a baker’s philosophy of precise measurements and chemistry. Stidham, Vale said, can improvise and, well, cook anything.
Combined, the Vales and Stidham bring a lot of baking and cooking expertise to the table. But to bring home cooking into the restaurant kitchen can be tricky, and that’s where chef Steve Stultz comes in. Stultz sat down with Stidham and the Vales before the café opened and worked through the entire menu to make it workable on a restaurant scale.
“There’s a certain trick to making a home recipe operational,” Vale said. “We’ve been pretty happy with how our food’s turned out.”
It appears a lot of other people are pleased as well. From the day it opened on June 4, the café has been so busy that it’s taken the first-time restaurant owners off guard. But of all the possible unforeseen difficulties that a new dining establishment can encounter, too many customers offer a welcome hurdle.
During the summer tourist season, Dave Vale said Pocketstone attracted up to 400 people per day. That’s dropped by about half, which still pleases the owners. The customers now are almost entirely locals, with regulars coming from as far away as Whitefish and St. Ignatius.
Pocketstone serves breakfast and lunch. Specialties include “Big Dave’s Buttermilk Pancakes” and “Karie’s Honey Pancakes,” as well as country benedicts, biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros, country-fried steaks, homemade soups, Reubens, burgers, salads and more. Everything is made from scratch based off in-house recipes. And it all comes from a snug little kitchen that puts every square inch to use.
“I’m just amazed at the quantity of from-scratch food we pull out of that place,” Carolyn Vale said.
The café closed two days shortly after opening but has not closed since, including Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, Pocketstone provided a free dinner with all the fixings to nearly 200 residents. A donation jar was set out for the local food bank. It ended up garnering $2,300.
“Which is good considering we didn’t start out doing a benefit,” Vale said.
Both the inside and outside of the restaurant were totally refurbished before opening. Reclaimed lumber, carefully hand-picked by Stidham, was used to give the interior an atmosphere of Western authenticity – a marriage of cozy and rustic. Like the food, the building showcases the owners’ tastes.
“Our food is home cooked and, when you think about it,” Dave Vale said, “most of our restaurant is homebuilt.”
Pocketstone Café is located at 444 Electric Avenue in Bigfork and is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It can be reached at (406) 837-7223 or found online at www.pocketstone.com.
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