Mountain Arts Pottery and Coffee Pot Bakery Café
By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor
BOZEMAN – David and Jennie Lockie had a thriving excavation business in the 1970s. It was a boom time, but then in 1979 the bubble burst and interest rates jumped from 9 to 21 percent. The Lockies lost $60,000 and with four children, times got hard fast.
“We basically went belly up,” said David, now 67. “For three years, I’d glean produce out of dumpsters behind the grocery stores to feed the family, because there was no money.”
Jennie gave David pottery lessons at Bozeman’s now defunct Ketterer Arts Center for his 31st birthday, and David, who had no previous art experience, discovered the power he had in his hands.
“It turned out he was really good at pottery,” said Jennie, now 65.
When the Yellowstone gift shop in Gardiner agreed to look at some samples in 1981, and then ordered $7,200 worth of pottery, the Lockies built a kiln in the backyard of their Bozeman home and converted their chicken coop into an art studio.
Walking into Mountain Arts Pottery south of Four Corners, one isn’t surprised to see mugs adorned with moose medallions, Montana scenes and family names, and full clay dinnerware sets in colorful glaze. “Blessing jars” – hand-thrown vessels for owners to deposit slips of paper expressing gratitude – are some of the shop’s top sellers. The Lockies sold 750 during the first three months they were on the market in 2005.
After buying and overhauling a circa-1932 log cabin into a new pottery studio on Highway 191 in 2003, the Lockies opened the Coffee Pot Bakery Café the next year. What hits the customer upon opening the wooden door is the smell of fresh baked raspberry/rhubarb pies, pecan bars and blueberry turnovers.
“Both David and I were competitive bakers for a local winter fair, and we both loved coffee,” said Jennie on a warm August afternoon on the café’s new back patio. “We figured if I did the baking and sold $100 [in baked goods] a day, it could take care of the utilities and help the place pay for itself.”
Jennie traded some of David’s pottery and paid $75 for a stove to make cinnamon rolls and caramel rolls and cookies. At days’ end, David would join Jennie to scrub down the café floors, kitchen and bathroom.
As sales increased, Jennie – the only baker, clerk and coffeemaker – became overloaded, unable to keep up with the rising demand of baked goods. Before the fall of 2004, the Lockies hired 17-year-old Allie Donaldson (née Bell) who introduced pies to the café. Jennie coined an early marketing slogan, “Friday is pie day,” and the café sold two pies a week.
Soon, they started making soup and bread and once Donaldson married and left to take care of a child, the Lockies hired Marci Gehring, “a real go-getter,” Jennie said.
With nearly 20 pies going out the door each day now, and approximately 30 employees – mostly in the kitchen – the Coffee Pot and Mountain Arts Pottery are both going strong. The café now offers a full lunch along with breakfast all day, and David says the studio will fire up to 40,000 pounds of clay this year, shipping 40 boxes of finished pottery per week nationwide.
“We spend about $11,000 a year with UPS,” David said.
To accommodate more customers at the Coffee Pot, the Lockies recently graveled the back lot to add an additional 25 parking spots.
“When we opened, we had seven chairs,” David recalled, looking around at the café’s now seven indoor tables. “Since we added the back patio last year, we have 50 more places to sit outside.”
The Lockies attribute their success to their faith in God, but also to loyal customers and their “greatest asset,” Jennie says, their employees. “You hear some young people don’t have [a strong] work ethic,” she said. “Not the ones here.”
Just then, Donaldson walks to the register from the kitchen. She’s been back on the team part time since 2012, like she never missed a beat.
“This is why I came back,” Donaldson says, looking from David to Jennie. “It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.”
On Aug. 15, the Lockies celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, and look back on the trying experience of losing their excavating company in ’79 as a blessing in disguise.
“Losing that business was one of the best things that’s happened to us,” David said.