Renovating the Red Caboose

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – One of Whitefish’s iconic downtown buildings is undergoing a massive renovation, and when it reopens in February will be a different business altogether: Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee.

Though the red storefront doesn’t look very different from the Central Avenue sidewalk, as of last week, the inside was a cacophony of construction as builders laid new tile in the kitchen, hung reclaimed barn wood on the interior walls and cut holes for five frozen yogurt stations – where customers will be able to help themselves in what will be Whitefish’s first self-serve frozen yogurt and coffee café.

“No self-serve yogurt has gone and created this kind of atmosphere, which is perfect in Whitefish,” said Reed Trontel, who with his wife Kelli are the new owners and operators of the business. “It just goes along with the healthy, active lifestyle that’s here.”

Reed Trontel stands in front of a reclaimed barn wood wall at Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee in Whitefish. Trontel and co-owner, Kelli Trontel, are using local and recycled products to renovate the building.

The price of the yogurt dishes will be based on weight, allowing customers total control over their snack. A massive toppings bar, featuring seasonal fresh fruit will also be waiting, once customers finish pulling their yogurt.

“It’ll be like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Reed said.

He and Kelli plan to offer fresh coffee and espresso drinks, as well as baked goods like cookies and cupcakes.

The corrugated tin along the lower walls comes from along Highway 200, and the rocks comprising the new fireplace were mined near Libby, creating a look that Kelli describes as “modern,” “rustic” and “industrial.” The goal is to create a comfortable space that’s inviting for everyone, from families visiting Whitefish during the summer to creative local residents to couples out on a casual date.

“It’s kind of marrying different styles to accommodate a wide range of people,” she said. “We want to do something fresh and different.”

Reed and Kelli moved here last year from Nashville, Tenn., where both worked in the music industry. Reed, who is originally from Kalispell, learned in April that the Red Caboose was coming up for sale, and they both realized it was the right venue to start the new business they had been contemplating. Reed previously ran several coffee stands in Missoula.

“We’re entrepreneurial people,” Reed said. “When this came for sale, we were like, ‘We’ve got to jump on it.’”

“Any time anybody said the Red Caboose, everybody knows where it is just because of how it looks,” he added. “I couldn’t think of a better spot.”

Kelli agreed it was an opportunity they couldn’t afford to pass on.

“That was exciting to me; it was something of character,” Kelli said. “I think that just made it for us.”

Eventually, they hope to feature acoustic, live music when Nashville friends visit.

Red Caboose Yogurt + Coffee co-owner Kelli Trontel.

They plan to open by Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, but compounding the pressure will be the arrival of a crew from the HGTV reality show, “House Hunters,” traveling to Whitefish ahead of time to record the renovation of the Red Caboose. The HGTV crew followed Reed and Kelli as they searched for a home in the valley, and decided to wrap the launch of their new business into the episode. While he’s excited about the show, Reed acknowledged it has put the renovation on a tight schedule.

There is, however, a consolation, he said: “Waking up every day and saying, ‘Wow, I live in Whitefish,’ – that’s really satisfying.”

The Red Caboose will be open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends and 2 p.m.-8 p.m. Sundays.

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