For more than a decade, Meg Blakney ran a catering company that supplied food — sometimes 600 meals per day — for events, weddings and raft companies in and around Glacier National Park. As with any business in this part of the state, spring and summer are hair-raisingly hectic, so when the pandemic hit two years ago and everything came to a halt (at least briefly), Blakney stopped to take a breather and think about what she wanted to do next.
Looking at her career in cuisine, Blakney could already be proud of her accomplishments — from working in fine dining restaurants out east to owning and operating a successful catering company out west — but she knew she wanted to have one more act before she retired for good. So in 2021, she and her husband Tom turned the catering business into a dine-in restaurant in Hungry Horse called Dan d’Lion that serves exclusively vegan and plant-based dishes.
Blakney thought it was a bold choice to open up a vegan restaurant in Hungry Horse, which in its heyday 70 years ago, during the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam, had a reputation for being a little rough around the edges — and sometimes still does. But Blakney thought it was an untapped market and she had data to prove it: In the last six years she ran the catering business, requests for vegan meals increased 6 percent every single year. While some caterers would do the bare minimum to appease those with special dietary needs — enjoy that reheated vegan lasagna — Blakney would go out of her way to make sure those requesting special meals got something equally as tasty and healthy. And in some instances, the resulting vegan menu item was actually better than what she was trying to replicate, so she simply made the plant-based item for everyone.
Even still, Blakney thought that Dan d’Lion might appeal exclusively to a certain type of eater: younger people primarily interested in health. But as soon as she opened the doors in June 2021, she realized the market for her food was much bigger than anticipated.
“Before we opened, I think some people thought we were crazy, but the response has been fantastic,” she said.
Dan d’Lion’s menu is anchored by filling salads (the Greek salad, for example, has a pile of tomato, cucumber, red onion, bell pepper, kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, tofu feta served with a flavorful house dressing) and classics like pizza, made possible because of the restaurant’s house-made gluten-free crust. Those flavorful dishes, along with all the others on the menu, has kept people coming back for more — sometimes quite literally. Blakney said one of her first customers was in the area on vacation and came back five nights in a row.
But perhaps the best customer experience Blakney has seen came after introducing the huckleberry shake, long a staple on Flathead Valley menus. The shake mixes Blakney’s vegan coffee cream mix — made with hazelnut butter, chia, vanilla and dates — and, of course, huckleberries. Blakney said the moment they put the sign out front declaring the presence of vegan huckleberry shakes, people immediately started turning off U.S. Highway 2. But one customer sticks out in her mind. An 80-year-old woman celebrating her birthday came with her family soon after the shake was added to the menu. The woman had dietary issues with dairy and had never had a huckleberry shake before. After the first sip, she started crying.
“I saw that and thought to myself ‘That’s why I’m doing this,’” Blakney said.
Description: A vegan huckleberry shake made with vegan creamer — hazelnut butter, chia, vanilla and dates — and, of course, local huckleberries.
Location: Dan d’Lion, 8942 U.S.Highway 2 East, Hungry Horse
Contact: earthangelorganicsmt.com or (406)260-6654.