What do you call someone who runs three businesses, two of which are restaurants steeped in history? In Missoula, we call her Melissa Mooney.
The west is calling, and I must go
Like so many before her, the west called to Melissa in a way that she could not ignore. At the young age of just 20 years old, Melissa knew she would call somewhere in the Pacific Northwest “home.” But where?
To answer that question, Melissa’s dad drove her across the country from her home state of Maine to Western Montana. When they reached Missoula, Melissa knew she had found her new home.
“Montana felt like it would have the least culture shock,” Melissa explained. “I didn’t know anyone here, but it was beautiful, and it felt friendly.”
Melissa settled into the University of Montana, waiting tables at Shadow’s Keep, where she met her future husband, Reed.
Reed started at Missoula’s legendary restaurant “The Mansion” as a dishwasher in high school. The Mansion was a historic Victorian mansion-turned-restaurant that was divided into three pieces and moved from the lower Rattlesnake to Missoula’s South Hills in the 60s to accommodate Interstate 90. Tragically it burned to the ground in 1992 and was replaced a year later with Shadow’s Keep, where Reed – after years of employment and additional schooling at the Culinary Institute – had moved up from dishwasher to kitchen manager.
It was here that fate stepped in once again to steer Melissa’s life in a direction she could not have foretold. Melissa explains, “I finished college, Reed and I got married, and we started a family. But Reed knew that the next step in his career was to become a restaurant owner.”
The road to becoming restauranteurs
In true Western Montana fashion, the owner of Shadow’s Keep had become a friend over the years, and the Mooneys found a commercial lender who believed in them. Melissa and Reed bought the legendary restaurant in 2007 and Shadow’s Keep became “The Keep.” A year later they acquired the 9-hole Highlands Golf Course that surrounds The Keep.
The Mooneys have been the happy owners of the “neighborhood castle” for 15 years, but were ready to expand their business portfolio. According to Melissa, “Reed had always wanted to own a steakhouse. In 2017, we heard that plans were underway to develop the old Merc building downtown, so through our real estate and lender connections, we were able to toss our hat in the ring for space in that building.”
And so one of Missoula’s newest treasures was born, “1889.” Melissa points out, “We really wanted to give Missoula a classic steakhouse that honors our local history. The location itself is historic, and the name comes from the year that Montana became a state and Missoula was incorporated as a city.” Life-size murals from 1889 adorn the walls – one is of downtown Missoula and the other features the hills above the University of Montana.
So what is it like to run three businesses – a successful Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty business and two restaurants? Melissa shrugs at this and answers, “We’re very organized and ambitious and we work a lot but we also have great teams. Reed was the chef at The Keep for many years, but he shifted into operations management for both restaurants and the golf course once 1889 opened.”
The couple shares the responsibility of overseeing both restaurant management teams, while Reed takes the lead role in managing the golf course. Melissa can’t quite let go of getting in the trenches with her crew, so after working in her real estate office all day, you can still find her a few nights a week at both locations, working alongside her crew during dinner service. Their two children have been fixtures at both The Keep and The Highlands their entire lives. And now that they are older, they are also actively involved in the family business. “Our daughter, Claire, is 16 (a junior at Sentinel High School) and our son, Benjamin, is 20 (and attends Missoula College) – both can be found a few nights a week working at The Keep.”
Being business owners in Western Montana
Melissa goes on to explain what her family likes about doing business in Western Montana. “The clientele at The Keep and The Highlands has been around for 30 years or so – they are such loyal customers and have become like family. For our regulars, The Keep is their neighborhood hangout where they are really comfortable. And even though 1889 is new, it’s downtown, and it has a different vibe, there is a lot of crossover between The Keep’s clientele and 1889’s. Overall, Missoula is such a community-focused place.”
When asked if her gut instincts at 20 years of age were right about Montana being a friendly place, Melissa smiles. “Absolutely. To this day, when my family visits from back east, they comment on how friendly people are, how they look you in the eye, how they wave to you even when they don’t know you. There is no better place to call home.”
Location images via Marianne Maynard Photography, other by Melissa Mooney
This is an excerpt from the recently released LIVE Montana. Pick up a copy at any Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty location or enjoy the digital version here: