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During the height of the pandemic last year, Tina Cusker began to notice people were mentally and emotionally struggling without being able to gather or share a meal together.

“People build relationships around the table,” Cusker said.

At the time, Cusker was teaching K-12 education at Montana State University and was struggling to work around COVID-19. Teaching during the pandemic was hard, she said. Communicating with students virtually, or in small groups, was challenging.

And after a year of staying home, Cusker was ready for a career change with something that aligned with her favorite pastime: cooking.

Cusker and her husband, Brett Cusker, are opening La Cuisine, a kitchen store and culinary classroom that marries her love for cooking with her 30-years’ experience teaching.

The Cuskers plan to celebrate the stores’ grand opening at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

La Cuisine offers a variety of kitchen ware and supplies — including many Montana made products — and plans to host weekly cooking classes in a newly renovated commercial-grade kitchen.

La Cuisine, at 2405 W. Main St., is scheduled to be open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Weekly cooking classes are planned to be held Tuesday evenings.

Tina Cusker thinks La Cuisine, as a place for gathering and eating, is much needed after the pandemic-induced isolation.

“We felt there was an opportunity to bring people together around our tables, to build community with our chefs as well as through our customers,” Cusker said.

The debut class — scheduled for Tuesday with local chef, Sadie Morales — is already sold out.

Classes schedule through October will feature all local chefs including Tory McPhail, of Revelry, Jam! and Dave’s Sushi, a class with personal chef Austin Quinn or with the chef from Taco Montes, Halden Pedersen.

The upstairs commercial kitchen is also available to rent for private events, parties or cooking classes.

Cusker thinks her space will help grow better connections between Bozemanites and local chefs and boost the culinary scene.

“It’s to build a stronger Bozeman community here,” she said.

Aside from supporting the local culinary community, the Cuskers want to uplift local military families. Brett Cusker is a retired Air Force colonel, Tina Cusker said.

Several times a year, the Cuskers plan to host free events specifically for local reserve, active and retired military families.

On a personal note, Cusker is excited for the new challenge.

It’s been a learning curve going from teaching the next wave of school teachers to learning the ins and outs of running a local business.

“I tell people this is the most exhausting but also most inspiring thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

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

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