When Graham’s Restaurant in Glacier closed a little more than two months ago, Kathleen O’Connell, who was a server there for four years, had the feeling that the tiny mountain town still had love to give to the renowned establishment.
After a volunteer force of local residents donated hundreds of hours to remodeling, cleaning and revamping the space, it seems her feeling was well founded. O’Connell re-opened Graham’s under the same name, with all the same staff, on June 30.
“I sort of inherited the history of the building,” O’Connell said. “I thought about changing the name but everyone would’ve called it Graham’s anyway.”
O’Connell said after 25 years of serving and bartending, she was ready to try a new career path. A call to Gary Graham, whose family has owned the building since 1932, confirmed the lease’s availability after the restaurant closed and the two sat down for breakfast to work out the details.
She didn’t have much capital and couldn’t obtain a small business loan to get the project started, so she asked the community for help, O’Connell said. Sure enough, as she drank her daily morning cup at Glacier’s Wake ‘n Bakery, O’Connell was consistently greeted by local residents and skilled craftsman ready to volunteer for the project.
“People would show up every morning and ask, ‘What can we do today?'” O’Connell said. “I can’t imagine it happening in any community other than Glacier.”
Local woodworkers and carpenters installed tables and framing made of recycled old-growth timber. Plumbers and electricians reworked the building’s vital systems. A friend helped O’Connell connect with food suppliers. Walls were painted or knocked out and 100-year-old wood floors were scrubbed. All pro bono. Despite the renovations, however, the restaurant’s old-time saloon feel has been preserved and the same black-and-white logging photos hang on the wall.
The menu has similarly been updated, but not transformed. O’Connell said the menu will be a little healthier, incorporating more vegetable items, local ingredients and homemade sauces than the outgoing version, but will continue to offer the mainstays of the restaurant: burgers and steaks. Beer from five taps and wine will also be available.
O’Connell said that the re-opening has gone smoothly, something she attributes to her experienced staff, as well as the outpouring of community support.
Dr. Joseph Garcia, who has lived in Glacier for five years, is emblematic of the local residents doing all they can to support O’Connell and her restaurant. He not only donated time, 18-foot-long structural beams and a piano to the restaurant’s remodel; he also drove 35 miles from Bellingham for a Friday lunch of fish and chips.
“I think what makes this place so special is that the whole community wants this to work,” Garcia said. “It’s not the typical business-customer relationship.”
For more information, call Graham’s Restaurant at (360) 599-3663.