During the spring of 2021, Montana Coffee Traders was struggling to retain employees ahead of what was one of the busiest summers on record for the Flathead Valley. Across its four locations, the company was down 9% of its staff from pre-pandemic levels.
Managers at the Kalispell location had roughly half the staff they needed to fully operate and were borrowing employees from other locations to keep the doors open. Eventually, they made the decision to temporarily close the Kalispell location during the company’s 40th anniversary year in order to redirect resources to Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
“We needed the break, we needed to make the right choices to support our teams and the other locations,” Café Coordinator Jessie Farnes said. “But now we’re ready to reinvest that energy here.”
Fast forward eight months and starting Feb. 3 passersby will once again be able to enter the soon-to-be bustling café and open the door to the subtle notes of roasted espresso beans.
“There’s something very warm about that feeling of yearning in both directions — we really want to be back and our community of people is looking for that,” Farnes said. “We’ve definitely missed being part of this community.”
The Kalispell café, which was originally located on Center Street, has been in its current spot on Main Street since 2017.
The reinvestment in the Kalispell coffee shop includes a new coat of paint on the interior as well as a new manager, Abbey Church, who joined the Coffee Traders team last summer.
Church grew up in the Flathead Valley and was a former restaurant manager in Lakeside, but after taking a step back from those roles she started as a part-time barista at Coffee Traders’ U.S. Highway 93 location.
“The opportunities just kind of arose for me to work up through the company and it felt like the perfect chance to jump back into management when they were hiring,” Church said. “I’m ready to bring the Coffee Traders culture back to Kalispell.”
Each Coffee Traders location has its own vibe and Church hopes to reopen the Kalispell café with a homey, comforting feel, where people want to walk in off the street and hang out.
In addition to the aesthetic changes to the interior, the Kalispell café will be starting out with a pared down menu, similar to the downtown Whitefish location, but distinctly different than what people are used to.
“The truth of the matter is hiring for line cooks in the valley is nearly impossible,” Farnes said. “It’s no one’s fault but we need to adapt to make the food more straightforward.”
To that end, Coffee Traders will no longer offer its full breakfast menu, but will still have quiche, breakfast sandwiches, bocadillos and baked goods. Kevin Dodd, the central kitchen manager, is also working on a way to keep the customer favorite Thai Curry on the menu without needing a full kitchen staff.
Farnes said that other than line cooks, rehiring a full staff was a fairly smooth process involving the “most incredible batch of interviewees” she’s ever seen.
“People are excited to be on board and excited to start the process again and bring Coffee Traders back,” she said. “We work for a company where the main point is to be a place of community connection, and we’re all excited to see people running into each other and having conversations again.”
According to Farnes and Church, there aren’t plans to host a big reopening celebration, but many of the senior members of the Coffee Traders team will be on hand to welcome the community back inside.
“I just want to see the faces come through the door again,” Farnes said. “I want to hear the sounds of coffee grinding, the sounds of espresso coming out of the machine and the sound of laughter with the smell of coffee lingering in the air.”
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