Julie and Barry Smith incorporated a bit of their now-closed Tiebuckers restaurant into their newly opened Tree Frog Tavern in Kalispell, bringing some repurposed barnwood and an old door from the Tiebuckers building.
There are also a few items commemorating the Tree Frog building’s 38 years as a Sizzler restaurant, including a display of three large black-and-white photos of Sizzler scenes from decades ago.
But those small touches aside, the restaurant has its own identity.
“We wanted to cook different food,” Smith said. “You can’t replace things; you have to change. Tree Frog has to be its own entity and allowed to develop like Tiebuckers did.”
The Smiths opened Tree Frog Tavern on U.S. 2 west of Kalispell officially on Sept. 29, closing Tiebuckers on Aug. 31 after 22 years in Somers.
More casual than Tiebuckers, the Tree Frog Tavern is intended to be “an oasis for adults,” Smith said.
“I know we can’t cater to everyone, and we chose to cater to adults,” she said. “The working class needs a nice place to unwind, to watch football, to play shuffleboard and cribbage in a peaceful environment.”
The casino area is closed off in a room on one end of the building and its presence does not intrude on the dining environment, Smith said. The dining room, which seats about 90 with space for a few more tables, has been opened up from its days as a Sizzler, with most of the dividing walls removed and a warm color scheme replacing the Sizzler’s brighter color palette.
Smith said they wanted the atmosphere to be inviting enough that customers would feel comfortable staying awhile, going for a “modern cozy feel.”
“We like to have a place where people can come and it doesn’t have to be ‘eat and run,’” Smith said. “We want people to sit and visit and dine on fresh, good food.”
The menu offers steaks, sandwiches, burgers and salads, with some seafood. Smith is especially proud of the fresh fish tacos, and fresh steamed clams are offered on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant, which currently has 26 employees, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Smiths had looked at the Sizzler building for years before they ended up purchasing it (the deal was final on May 8) but the price was too high for their budget. When they decided to make the move from Somers, they were initially hoping to take residence in a downtown Kalispell location, but couldn’t find a site that worked.
Then in the last year they made a fairly low offer on the Sizzler location, and to their surprise, it was accepted.
“When Barry and I bought Tiebuckers, it had been vacant for 10 years, and this one was vacant for four,” Smith said. “We take things and make them better.”
They spent the summer in transition, winding down Tiebuckers for an Aug. 31 closing while beginning renovations for the Tree Frog Tavern.
“It was not fun,” Smith said. “I didn’t even see summer.”
They did most of the work themselves, but Smith said they were “blessed” throughout the moving process.
“Customers came and helped us, a lot of people helped us,” Smith said. “It was kind of cool and a reflection on our community. We have terrific friends.”
Smith said having the restaurant located on the west side of Kalispell will hopefully offer a boost to the area.
“The west side hasn’t really gotten a fair shake,” she said. “It’s a terrific place for us because we live in Kila, and going north of town is taxing.”
The Smiths had developed a good customer base at Tiebuckers, despite its relatively low-profile location in Somers. Julie had been in banking before the couple decided to open Tiebuckers. Barry had a solid restaurant background, running a large restaurant in Modesto, Calif., then working in establishments in Yellowstone and Whitefish.
“He’s always done this and this was his dream,” Smith said of the restaurants. “But then it became mine.”
The Tiebuckers site, which was built in 1928 and includes 2,000 square feet of living space upstairs, is for sale for $249,000. That doesn’t include the liquor license, which runs around $500,000. The Smiths took the liquor license with them to the Tree Frog Tavern.
For more information, call the Tree Frog Tavern at 756-3764.
The Tree Frog Tavern has renovated and opened the old Sizzler on U.S. 2 West in Kalispell.
Julie Smith at the Tree Frog Tavern.