After more than a decade of mixing drinks behind a bar, Stefanie Bridges was looking for a change. So she opened a restaurant in the corner of the Palace Bar in Whitefish.
Bridges had never opened a restaurant before or led a kitchen. She never went to culinary school or had formal training in cooking. But she was passionate about healthy cuisine and food from the Hawaiian Islands, where she lived for more than a decade before coming to the Flathead Valley to be closer to family a few years ago.
“This was something I always wanted to do,” Bridges said of opening Rebel Roots Kitchen in September 2018.
Since opening, Rebel Roots Kitchen has become a popular lunch spot offering gluten-free and dairy-free food inspired by the Asian-Hawaiian fusion Bridges loves.
Bridges said the most training she ever received in a kitchen was from her mother, who was always cooking when she was a kid. Otherwise, Bridges is completely self-taught. Bridges said she has long been a fan of clean eating but was disappointed to find few options in Whitefish that catered to such a diet — surprising, she said, since the Flathead Valley is such an active community.
“You are what you eat, and I think people should be aware of what they put in their body,” she said.
The simple menu features pork and tofu tacos, spicy Thai veggie soup, fresh spring rolls and “rice” bowls that feature cauliflower rice instead of the grain. Everything is low carb. Bridges said she was unsure if people would like the food, but the restaurant has become an overnight success. Some of her biggest fans are Palace Bar regulars.
“I’ve got these old Montana dudes eating tofu tacos,” she said.
One of the most popular dishes is the Rebel “Rice” Bowl. The dish features steamed kale and carrots, raw bell peppers, purple cabbage, bean sprouts, red radishes, avocado and toasted sunflower seeds on a bed of “garlicky” riced cauliflower and smothered in a basil coconut curry sauce. The dish comes with your choice of baked tofu or locally sourced pork.
Bridges said it has quickly become one of the most popular dishes.
“I want people to feel full and satisfied when they come to Rebel Roots Kitchen, not sluggish,” she said.
Nine months after the restaurant’s opening, Bridges, who wasn’t sure if it would be successful, said she’s now looking to expand. This summer, she is getting a food truck that will appear at the Whitefish Farmers Market and other events around the valley. The food truck will focus entirely on ahi poke bowls.
Bridges is also proud that the restaurant uses environmentally friendly containers and biodegradable flatware.
Looking back at the last year, Bridges is happy she decided to change careers.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “This is something I really want to keep doing.”
Description: Steamed kale and carrots, raw bell peppers, purple cabbage, bean sprouts, red radishes, avocado and toasted sunflower seeds on a bed of “garlicky” riced cauliflower and smothered in a basil coconut curry sauce with tofu or locally sourced pork.
Location: Palace Bar, 125 Central Ave., Whitefish
Hours: Monday – Saturday 12 to 4 p.m. (or until the pantry empties)