Fork & Spoon

Fork & Spoon, the HRDC-run nonprofit, reopened to in-person dining on Monday after more than a year of offering takeout meals only. 

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Staff at Fork & Spoon have spent the better part of two weeks preparing to reopen the restaurant to diners, after more than year of offering only takeout meals.

The Human Resources Development Council’s nonprofit, pay-what-you-can restaurant, at 302 N. 7th St., closed to in-person diners after the pandemic hit Montana in March 2020.

The restaurant served customers indoors Monday for the first time since last March. Spare ribs, grits, pizza and a few desserts were on the menu.

“We’re just really excited to reopen,” said Head Chef Leah Smutko.

The restaurant plans to operate from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday and will continue to offer takeout options.

Despite serving takeout only, demand for the restaurant has remained high throughout the pandemic.

Since March, the restaurant has served anywhere from 80 to 100 people per night, Manager Rick Hilles said. During the winter, the restaurant also prepared nightly meals to the HRDC’s seasonal warming center.

Not being able to interact with customers, check in with regulars, work with volunteers and see people enjoying their meal has been one of the most difficult things about operating during the pandemic, Smutko said.

“We don’t get to see a lot of the faces that we normally do,” Hilles said.

The two are also hopeful that having the restaurant open to dine-in customers will encourage more people to donate, either their money or time, to the eatery.

Fork & Spoon

Fork & Spoon head Chef Leah Smutko, left, and manager Rick Hilles celebrate

its reopening to dine-in customers on Monday, June 7. (Juliana Sukut/Chronicle)

For the past year, the restaurant has been operating on a shoe-string budget with just a handful of its employees. Fork & Spoon cut all of its volunteer staff in March to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The nonprofit saw a lag in individual donations. Its for-profit catering arm also took a hit for most of last year after many events were canceled or moved online. Fork & Spoon has since pivoted to offer paid take-and-bake catering options and catering smaller events or parties.

Some other changes will be implemented with reopening, including a new system to pay for meals.

While the meals are still “pay-what-you-can,” starting Monday people will be asked if they want to contribute the suggested $14 for the food at the end of the meal rather than when they order.

“It makes it anonymous and reduces stigma,” she said. “It allows it to be like any other restaurant.”

The restaurant is now looking for volunteers to fill a variety of positions in the front and back of house.

Finding volunteers has been challenging, Hilles said. Some people are still hesitant to work during the pandemic and sourcing volunteers is typically harder during the summer months.

Information on volunteering can be found at forkandspoonbozeman.org/volunteer.

In addition to finding volunteers, the restaurant is also looking to hire a handful of part-time employees to help some gain work experience.

“We’re focusing a little bit more on a workforce development model, where people can come in and actually get paid hours,” Smutko said.

Smutko and Hilles were both eager to reopen Monday.

As COVID cases have continued to stay low in Bozeman, and with vaccines readily available for most, the timing felt right to safely reopen, Hilles said.

“We’ve been anxious (to reopen) since about September,” he said.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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