Big Horn businesses eager for restaurant to re-open

By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer

BIG SKY – Caliber Café and Spirits is on schedule for an August opening at Bugaboo’s old location in the Big Horn Shopping Center just north of the intersection of Lone Mountain Trail and U.S. Highway 191. Stephanie Alexander, who owns Caliber Coffee in Westfork Meadows, is partnering with Tom Newberry in the venture, and said she hopes to have the place up and running by Aug. 1. While the “spirits” component is further down the road, the new café will serve Tex-Mex comfort food and baked goods from Elle’s Belles Bakery, a Bozeman operation with a nationwide clientele.

Open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., the café will serve drinks from an espresso bar and Elle’s Belles premade baked goods, freshly baked in-house. Alexander’s coffee shop already serves the bakery’s goods. “She doesn’t work with everyone,” Alexander said of bakery owner Elle Fine.

Alexander plans to serve eggs benedict—a dish everyone’s been requesting—and strawberry cream cheese-stuffed French toast, along with burritos and sandwiches, all made with ingredients sourced as locally as possible. The Tex-Mex menu will be served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the option of sitting down to eat or grab-and-go.

The space Caliber Café will occupy housed the Bugaboo Café for the past 14 years until its official closure this spring. A dream come true for original owners Paul and Kim Cameron, Bugaboo operated under their care for over a decade before they sold it to longtime employee and friend Geoff Calef in 2015.

Although the handover was amiable and well-received by the Big Sky community, the business was soon hamstrung by a shortage of employees. Calef found himself turning away customers for lack of workers, citing Big Sky’s affordable housing crisis as the cause.

“Why commute to Big Sky when you can get the same job in Bozeman?” Calef told EBS in an August 2016 interview.

Bugaboo held on by a thread with scaled-back hours and a skeleton crew until Calef finally threw in the towel a few months ago.

As Alexander and Newberry take the baton, the question of what will be different for the new owners hovers. However, Alexander is confident their enterprise won’t repeat history. Getting ahead of potential employment challenges, she has already hired two cooks and a handful of servers, all of whom already live in Big Sky. Alexander said she’s offering competitive wages to secure some stability in her workforce.

“I don’t want to go through employees like everybody else,” Alexander said.

Neighboring business owners are eager to see the return of a restaurant to the Big Horn Shopping Center. Like a rising tide lifts all the boats in a harbor, these business owners have witnessed how a popular restaurant boosts business for the whole center.

“Having a successful, busy restaurant definitely helps everyone in the center,” Consignment Cabin co-owner Kerri Fabozzi said, referencing the extra foot traffic it draws to the shopping center.

Fabozzi and her husband, Kevin, bought the Consignment Cabin in September 2015 and have noticed how the Big Horn Shopping Center is often overlooked as drivers accelerate out of the stoplight toward Bozeman or—as she swears she’s seen—accelerate into the stoplight to turn up to Big Sky.

Angie Turner, whose husband, photographer Ryan Turner, has a studio that shares a wall with the incoming café, echoed this impression, recalling how Bugaboo’s umbrella-shaded outdoor tables drew business from the road. Customers would mill about as they waited for a table or explore the Big Horn shops after dining.

“Having an anchor-restaurant in a shopping center, I think, makes a big difference to all the other businesses,” Turner said. “Restaurants are really a destination for tourists. Everybody needs to get something to eat.”

Jill Zeidler, a ceramicist with a studio/retail space in the same building as Turner Photography and the café, said foot traffic had markedly decreased since Bugaboo shuttered its doors, hindering the likelihood of walk-ins discovering her handiwork.

“It’s huge, the difference,” Turner said. “[The Café] would be a big benefit for all of use, I’m sure.”

The rest of the community might benefit as well, short as it is on dedicated breakfast restaurants since Buttr’s closure this winter.

“A fun resort town has fun breakfast places,” Fabozzi said.

Alexander decided to fill the gap for Big Sky. She owned a coffee stand in the Exxon Mobile parking lot off Highway 191 before buying Caliber and understands the importance of locals in building and maintaining a successful business.

“If you can get the local base, they can get you through the offseason,” Alexander said. “You’ll have the tourists, but the locals are who make you.”

Alexander thinks vehicle traffic from park visitors will help business, too. In turn, the café might be a bonus for other Big Horn center businesses while bringing another breakfast spot back to Big Sky.

“I can’t wait till that restaurant opens,” Fabozzi said. “They’re success is going to definitely help us, and vice versa. That’s how commerce works—the more the merrier.”