By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – The Cabin Bar & Grill evolved out of The First Place Restaurant, which opened in one of the first buildings in the Meadow Village Center approximately 32 years ago.
The Cabin’s co-owner Curly Shea started working for the Fursts (hence the name The First Place) in 1982 and bought the business from them six years later. He owned and operated it in the same location for 17 years. In 2003, Curly and his wife Kelly Shea relocated the restaurant to the Mountain Village in the Arrowhead Mall and changed the name to The Cabin, where they have been running it together ever since.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Curly Shea: A lot of hard work, great employees, and consistently great food and service.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
C.S.: Getting employees and the off seasons.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
C.S.: There is a lot more competition and the price of doing business has skyrocketed.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
C.S.: Big Sky is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family. Sticking it out through the hard times was really not that hard; I was lucky and got into my business and housing early on before prices got so crazy.
EBS: Why do you think so many new businesses fold relatively quickly?
C.S.: Because people don’t realize how difficult it is to run a small business and how long it takes to start making money. You also have to be hands-on and present, which Kelly and I are on a daily basis.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
C.S.: Keep your set costs as low as you can, then stay the same month to month—your income goes up and down with the seasons. Be ready to work a lot of hours to make your business survive.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
C.S.: Unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of advice from anyone that stands out, but a few people gave me some: Don’t be afraid of change—go with it and embrace it. There is always something good about change and something to learn from it.
EBS: What do you think your business will look like in 10 years?
C.S.: Even busier.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had as a resident or business owner in Big Sky?
C.S.: I have lived in Big Sky for 40 years, so I have had a lot of memorable experiences … spending the night on Lone Peak when the tram was not there and skiing the North Summit Snowfield in the summer; the 1988 fires in Yellowstone; raising my family in Big Sky; hiking Wilson Peak with my son Cooper on the eclipse.
The Cabin Bar & Grill – by the numbers
• Staff: 20-30 people
• Years in business: 15 as The Cabin
• Longest serving employee: Natasza Wisniewska, 15 years