Southern Charm in Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – It’s been 19 years since Tupelo Grille started serving its now-signature Cajun and Southern dishes here, but don’t expect this restaurant to stop and rest on its many laurels.

Having become one of the top spots for dinner in Whitefish, along with receiving quality reviews from the likes of Bon Appetit magazine, Tupelo continues to evolve, from the kitchen to the restaurant itself.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Pat Carloss, owner and general manager at Tupelo, said.

The restaurant has undergone four remodels at this point, but the latest effort – adding a bar and lounge space in the building next door – is likely the restaurant’s most ambitious project.

Carloss bought a liquor license last June, which was the impetus behind the expansion. It was then or never, he said in an interview last week, and he decided to go for it.

Four months after getting the license, crews busted through the wall between the existing restaurant and the building next door, which was formerly an art gallery. The restaurant went to work retrofitting the existing bar to make use of its liquor license, but the real work was happening next door.

The demolition, construction and finishing was a major project, Carloss said, because the building isn’t quite level; one wall is about five inches higher than its parallel counterpart to the south.

Plus, the additional square footage called for fitting the entire restaurant and new bar space with fire sprinklers, Carloss said, along with the attic space above both areas.

By Oct. 26 of last year, the construction was hitting its peak, and Tupelo had to shut its doors while the messiest aspects of the work, including tapping into the city water main, finding the sewer line, and adding proper ventilation, happened.

But the crews, despite the challenges, made enough headway for the restaurant to reopen by Dec. 6, and the bar by Dec. 20.

“The holidays are always good,” Carloss said. “It exposed this place to a lot of people.”

The new space, which will go by the Tupelo name for now, Carloss said, is a contemporary bar, comfortable and intimate, with bourbon and tequila specialties.

Carloss said he wanted to create a contemporary space, but also have it jive with the old New Orleans feel of the restaurant.

“The trick was to make it match,” he said.

The answer is making the old new again. The flooring and wood beams in the bar are reclaimed wood and tin from the old O’Neil sawmill in Kalispell, and many pieces of the furniture, such as the wine cabinet, light fixtures and tables, are made from reclaimed parts of a factory.

The bar itself, made by Brad Wildes, is concrete with shells and glass mixed in it. The overall bar design, created by Carloss, includes iron I-beams holding up the liquor shelves and plenty of space to show off bar manager Mike Christensen’s selections.

Keeping with the industrial theme, the tall tables were also built with iron I-beams, and the bar rail is an iron creation as well from Trumble Creek Iron in Columbia Falls.

With the metal, concrete and dark wood, Carloss said live jazz would be the perfect fit for the atmosphere. Currently, the bar hosts live music during the weekends, but that will likely expand to five nights a week during the summer.

And despite being a relatively stressful expansion, it seems to be paying off, Carloss said. Sales from January and February are up 50 percent from where they were last year, he said.

“There’s been a great local response,” Carloss said.

Along with the new bar, the management staff, including dining room manager Bre Hopper and executive chef Cecilie Andersson, are intent on keeping Tupelo’s vibe the same, while keeping an eye out for future possibilities, Carloss said.

For more information on Tupelo Grille, visit www.tupelogrille.com.

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