SOMERS – The building that houses Tiebuckers Pub and Eatery has undergone multiple transitions in its lifetime, beginning in 1929 as the Somers Lumber Company’s office and taking its turn as a makeshift school, a mini-mall, a gambling venture, a huckleberry pie filling business, a private residence and various restaurants.
In 1992, Barry and Julie Smith turned it into Tiebuckers, and it has stayed that way for the past 20 years. But even so, Tiebuckers has seen its own share of metamorphoses in the last two decades, as have the Smiths themselves.
“There’s a whole lot of history in this old place,” Julie Smith said as she gazed around the pub.
The Smiths bought the building at a foreclosure auction on June 28, 1991. There was nothing inside, Smith said, and there was a lot of cleaning to do. But Barry’s dream was to open a pub, she said, and buying property in Whitefish, where they had been living at the time, hadn’t worked out.
So they looked to Somers, where they would choose to raise their young family. Last week, Julie pointed to a supporting pole in the pub that is now covered with yarn that says “Tiebuckers” and surrounded by tables and chairs.
“I stood right against that pole with a 3-month-old daughter in my arms and bought Tiebuckers,” she said.
After 11 months of repair – “I swear to God every pipe in here I have soldered,” Julie said – the couple opened the pub for breakfast and lunch. The wood-fired grills Julie wanted to cook dinner with hadn’t arrived yet, so Barry did the cooking while Julie waitressed, pregnant with their second daughter.
Soon, they were serving three meals a day and Julie took her place as the cook and Barry as the front man. The family lived in the space above the restaurant, and Barry and Julie realized they wanted more time with their kids. They shifted to just serving dinner, and moved their living quarters to Kila where the girls had room to play outside.
It wasn’t exactly the life Julie had planned for herself. She met Barry in California, where she had grown up on a farm. She had a successful banking career going, but knew her life would take a different path once she moved to Northwest Montana.
“I traded my Mercedes for a Subaru,” Julie said, laughing.
Though it was Barry who wanted to own a pub, Julie was more interested in cooking. Having grown up in an Italian family, food is more than just physical nourishment – it’s an emotional currency, something for people to rally around.
And that’s what happened with their loyal customers, Julie said. She moved here without knowing a soul, but found a community at Tiebuckers, where customers remember seeing Julie pregnant and then watching the kids grow up.
“It’s a family, it truly and honestly is,” Julie said.
When the economy collapsed, the restaurant felt it. One dining room has been essentially closed off, and diners can now eat in the pub, which used to serve as a staging area.
The menu has changed as well, Julie said. She used to make meals with emu, ostrich, wild boar and other exotic ingredients, but has settled with more conventional fare, such as burgers and steak sandwiches. They held four wine-tasting dinners during which she could let loose in the kitchen, Julie said, which allowed her to flex her culinary muscles.
Customers’ behavior has also shifted a bit, Julie said. When there were fewer entertainment options in the valley, people used to dine as their evening’s activity, with a full meal that lasted hours.
“People don’t do that anymore, and that’s sad to me,” Julie said. “Food is family.”
The Smiths’ daughters are grown now, both attending college out of state. The economy still provides a challenge, but Julie is confident they can rise to it. They have no plans to sell – that’s one transition she’s just not ready for.
“I have never tired from cooking,” Julie said.
Tiebuckers is located in downtown Somers, and is open at 5 p.m.
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