November 21, 2017

Who owns all these great Whitefish restaurants?

Whitefish Restaurants

Plenty of passionate purveyors create a thriving dining scene

Our Whitefish restaurants offer a significant draw for visitors to Whitefish and every one is a story of creativity, innovation and passion.

Café Kandahar

Cafe Kandahar has been a cornerstone of Whitefish dining for the last 28 years. The restaurant is located inside the beautiful Kandahar Lodge, in the heart of the village at Whitefish Mountain Ski and Summer Resort. Our main dining room commemorates the beginning years of Whitefish Mountain with wonderful black and white photographs of the proprietors and skiing legends that helped build (then named) The Big Mountain Ski Resort during the 1950’s. Our tradition of fine dining and efforts toward continued culinary excellence characterizes Cafe Kandahar as a premier dining establishment, a distinction recognized by travelers and locals alike.·        

Andy Blanton was raised in several different cities, notably New Orleans, Louisiana and Virginia Beach, Virginia. His culinary journey began while working as a dishwasher at the age of 15. After working at a couple of restaurants washing dishes, curiosity began to arise and the allure of cooking became apparent. At eighteen years of age, Andy began to realize his path in the world of food. It was not until a year later, with several line cooking positions under his belt; he chose to catapult his career by enrolling in culinary school.

Attending the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Andy earned an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts. This enabled him to return to his roots in Louisiana to explore the abundance of flavorful cuisine. Learning the techniques and core foundations of all facets of food preparation, while continuing to work in several different restaurants, he became fascinated with the different styles and versatility of food. He began to appreciate the happiness food brings to people, for both the chef who prepares it and the guest who enjoys it. This struck a deep chord within him and he became fully dedicated to creating this enjoyment for both himself and his guests.

The same year he finished school, Chef Blanton took a job at Commanders Palace in New Orleans, Louisiana, recipient of the James Beard Award for “Most Outstanding Restaurant in 1996.” This is where he learned depth within each dish, paying attention to details such as texture, mouth feel, presentation, eye appeal, and flavor, and how these elements combine for each and every plate.

His passion continued to grow as did his excitement with the industry. He began to research and educate himself about current trends, award winning chefs, and the finest examples of culinary cuisine. This led him to Brigtsens, working under Frank Brigtsen, another James Beard Award winning Chef, allowing him to fine tune his experience. While at Brigtsens, Andy was fortunate to also work with award winning chef Susan Spicer of Bayona.

In the fall of 1999, Andy chose to move to Whitefish, Montana for a change of pace and scenery. His talents were quickly recognized and he became Executive Chef of Café Kandahar at Big Mountain Resort in 2000. After six years as Executive Chef, Andy purchased the restaurant in 2006.

Café Kandahar serves creative cuisine with a strong classical foundation. The styles are Modern American with roots ripe in French and Creole influences. Showcasing locally cultivated products, wild game and the freshest ingredients, Café Kandahar strives to provide guests with a unique and exquisite dining experience. The cafe boasts an extensive wine list garnering numerous accolades such as “The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence” (since 1998) and the “Wine Enthusiasts Award of Unique Distinction” (since 2004). Specializing in the art of pairing food and wine, the café delights patrons with nightly features of both.

The Buffalo Café and Nightly Grill

For over 30 years the Buff has been serving breakfast and lunch to the people of Whitefish and those who visit. For the past 5 years we have also been offering a killer dinner option with a unique menu featuring hand pressed burgers you won’t find anywhere else (like the Hot Date Burger with crumbled blue cheese, grilled dates, and Sriracha aioli). And best of all, we have beer and wine available focusing on local craft beers (7 on draft) and well paired red and whites.


The Buffalo Cafe was first established in the early summer of 1979 in Bigfork, Montana by Charlie and Linda Maetzold.  After several years in Bigfork, just before the birth of their first son Andy, Charlie and Linda packed their things and moved to the small ski town of Whitefish, Montana where they opened the Buffalo downtown and never looked back.  Over the years, the Maetzold family grew to include their second son, Alex.

The Buffalo Cafe has been family owned and operated by the Maetzold Family and for over 30 years, Charlie and Linda have worked hard to create one of the best breakfast and lunch establishments around. The Buff has since been voted “Best Breakfast in Whitefish” 6 of the last 8 years along with awards for “Best Lunch” and “Best Burger”. Now Alex and Andy are working on keeping it that way for the next 30 years

In May of 2008, after graduating from the University of Montana, Andy and Alex found their way back home to Whitefish and took on the challenge of opening the Buffalo Café’s first dinner operation-and the Buffalo’s Nightly Grill was born. Over the last few years, the Buff’s Nightly Grill has been awarded “Best new restaurant” and “Best Dinner on a Budget”. The Grill features a unique dinner menu but keeps to the same philosophy as always–home cooked food, made fresh and served with a smile.

Casey’s Pub and Grill

Originally opened as the Sprague Saloon in 1905, our historic location at 101 Central Avenue has been home to saloons or billiard halls ever since. In 1967, we were renamed Casey’s and have been a landmark on Central Avenue for as long as most Flathead Valley residents and visitors can remember.

In 2012, we debuted a much needed, and highly anticipated, redesign and rebuild. The new Casey’s blends beautiful architecture and design with exceptional hospitality and entertainment. Multiple levels and bars create a different atmosphere and experience on each floor.

 Mike Goguen has good instincts. When he and his Silicon Valley venture capital partners were approached by two techies working on the beginnings of an idea for something called “Google,” their instincts told them to invest. Thanks in part to their startup backing, Google was born. The same went for Yahoo! before then and YouTube later. Sequoia Capital, the venture capital firm where Goguen is a managing partner, has helped give birth to companies that today represent more than 20 percent of the value of the entire NASDAQ stock market, including Apple. In the past couple of years, Goguen has branched out considerably in his community investments. He was the sole investor in Casey’s Bar and Grill, a huge undertaking that reconstructed a prime corner of real estate in downtown Whitefish. 

To date, he has spent well over $10 million in personal funds on an expansive state trust land plan that has spawned the popular Whitefish Trail. Millions more of his dollars have poured into an assortment of local philanthropic causes and community investments, particularly in Whitefish. His generosity has earned praise down the line from the governor to the sheriff to the mayor and throughout the valley. If someone starts connecting the dots and doing the math, the scope of his charity is startling –and evidence of how much can get done when a man of means decides to invest in his community. Casey’s Bar and PROOF Research exist because of him. The Wave, North Valley Music School and Dave Olseth Skateboard Park have all received his funds. So have the Whitefish Review, Whitefish Mountain Resort and Alpine Theatre Project. The list is long and constantly growing.

So the inevitable question arises: Why? When your resume includes helping get Google, Yahoo! and YouTube off the ground, why worry about a trail or a restaurant in Whitefish? His answer seems almost too obvious, or maybe just poignantly direct: He wants to make his community a better place and he has the means to do it, through a “combination of community-based philanthropy and community-based investing.”

“I love this place for the same reasons that everybody else does,” Goguen told the Beacon recently. “I find it incredibly satisfying and rewarding when I do something that helps people in a significant way or solves a tough problem.”

Ciao Mambo – a great Italian Restaurant*

            With creative twists on classic recipes there is something for everyone in the family from our pasta dishes with rich savory sauces and fresh ingredients to our thin crust pizzas baked to perfection.


The Craggy Range Bar & Grill*

            Craggy boasts innovative gastropub fare, an extensive offering of creative libations, flat screens for the big game, pool tables, a full service patio and a live music stage.


Latitude 48 & Red Room*

            This duo offers an artful fusion of traditional and contemporary trends both through the cuisine and atmosphere. With a commitment to using local ingredients whenever possible, every dish flaunts uncompromising quality. Downstairs (Red Room) is a plush metro lounge where you can sit back and enjoy a signature martini, small plates, fire-roasted pizza, a glass of wine or craft beer.


MacKenzie River Pizza*

            Offering an incredible array of delectable dishes, always flavorful, fresh and served up in heaping portions. Cuisine includes gourmet pizzas, hearty sandwiches, salads and pastas, complemented by local and regional craft brews and fine wines.


* Bill Foley, board chairman of Fidelity National Financial and majority owner of Whitefish Mountain Resort is selling his large Whitefish ranch because he splits most of his time between his Montana cattle ranch near Deer Lodge and his business ventures in Las Vegas. Foley is the lead investor in the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, which will launch their inaugural season in 2017. The Wall Street Journal reported Foley plans to keep a vacation home and some property in Whitefish.

The billionaire has been a part-time Whitefish resident since 2000. He purchased a large block of Winter Sports Inc. stock in 2004 and since then has become the largest stockholder.

In 2007 Foley formed the Glacier Restaurant Group, a company that acquired MacKenzie River Pizza Co. (25 locations), Mambo Italiano (now Ciao Mambo-3 locations), Craggy Range Bar and Grill and the Cornerhouse Grill (now Latitude 48).

Tupelo Grill

Tupelo is often recommended by major publications and is considered a not-to-be-missed Whitefish dining experience. We specialize in Cajun and Southern cuisine, fresh sea food, steaks and pasta – carefully prepared and presented. 

There is no such thing as an easy day in the restaurant business. That is certainly true for Tupelo Grille owner Pat Carloss and his general manager Paul Abu-Taleb, who are not only keeping busy with day-to-day operations at the popular Southern-inspired restaurant in downtown Whitefish but are also launching two new eateries at the same time.

Carloss is opening a yet-to-be-named Italian restaurant in downtown Whitefish in mid-December before turning his attention to a major renovation at Columbia Falls’ Bandit Saloon, which he purchased earlier this year. The upcoming openings come as Tupelo marks 22 years in downtown. In that time, the restaurant has expanded four times and has cemented itself as a local favorite.

Prior to opening Tupelo in 1995, Carloss ran a restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with his wife. They moved to Whitefish in the mid-1990s, banking on the idea that it would be “the next big thing” in the West, a bet that’s proven to be true.

Carloss said once a restaurant has established itself and built a following, it can be nearly impossible to change the menu. While Tupelo has daily specials, regulars expect to be able to enjoy their favorite dishes. So for the last few years, Carloss and his general manager Abu-Taleb have talked about opening a new restaurant to try some different things. Earlier this fall, when Truby’s Restaurant and Bar closed just a block from Tupelo, Carloss saw his opportunity. Carloss and Abu-Taleb looked at the space and Whitefish’s restaurant scene and decided an Italian restaurant would be a great addition to downtown.

Over the next six weeks, Carloss’ team will be updating the old Truby’s space, adding a second bar and installing a large brick oven. The restaurant will serve pizza, homemade pasta and more.

“We want to make the space feel different and really make it our own,” Abu-Taleb said.

After the Italian restaurant opens, Carloss and his team will turn their attention to the old Bandit in Columbia Falls, which he plans on remodeling into a family pub and sports bar in time for a Spring 2018 grand opening. He believes it will be a great addition to downtown Columbia Falls and a popular place to grab a beer or dinner with friends.

“We want to make it a place that people want to hang out at,” he said. “I think folks in Columbia Falls have been asking for more food options.”

Carloss plans on hiring 80 to 100 people in the next six months, bringing the total number of employees at all three restaurants to nearly 150.

Opening two new restaurants at the same time while already running a popular eatery may seem like a daunting task, but Carloss said it’s all possible because of the great team that has been assembled in recent years.

“The time is right for us to expand,” he said.

While some have asked if a new Italian restaurant right down the street from Tupelo would mean increased competition, Abu-Taleb doesn’t see it that way. He said that Whitefish’s growing culinary scene can support many more options and that “all ships rise with the tide.”

“Every great restaurant that opens is a meaningful step for the local food scene,” he said.

Wasabi Sushi Bar & Ginger Grill

Sushi and grilled food with a contemporary flair and accompanied with beer, wine and sake.

Turning 17 years old isn’t typically considered a colossal feat of longevity, but for a sushi restaurant in Montana, that length of time is downright grandfatherly.

The Wasabi Sushi Bar and Ginger Grill celebrated its 17-year anniversary in January. Paula Greenstein, Wasabi’s owner, said the restaurant has been in the same location on Second Street in downtown Whitefish since the beginning.

Despite being a relative stranger in a strange land, Wasabi is a consistently popular dining destination, attracting a diverse ensemble of out-of-towners looking to satisfy their exotic taste buds and locals who just want some good food. Reservations are recommended, for good reason.

Greenstein attributes the restaurant’s endurance to three main factors: the creative foresight and ingenuity of previous owners Scott and Kerry Nagel, who understood that an innovative – instead of traditional – approach to sushi was necessary for survival; a strong local customer base; and an excellent staff. And Greenstein has certainly done her part too.

When Greenstein purchased the restaurant nine years ago, she said much of the current foundation was already in place, but she tweaked, added and cut down where appropriate. Scott Nagel was the head chef, but Phil Vilar had worked under him for years, Greenstein said. So when Nagel left, she had Vilar step into the head role.

Vilar is inventive with his menu, offering daily specials and sushi rolls that incorporate various types of fish, tempura, veggies and diet-specific foods such as quinoa and gluten-free products. Greenstein is often the inspiration for menu experimentations.

While she doesn’t claim to be a chef, Greenstein has been around the restaurant business her whole life, with her dining repertoire stretching from Los Angeles to New York. She recalls being the only white person, other than her friend, eating at Japanese restaurants in west Los Angeles in the 1980s. Food has always been important to her, and sushi is vital.

“I know what works and I know what I like,” Greenstein said.

In 2004, Greenstein ate at Wasabi while visiting the Whitefish area. Accustomed to having quality Asian restaurants right outside her door in California, Wasabi was a welcome surprise. Then after she bought the Haymoon Ranch Resort in Happy Valley in 2007, she heard from a friend that Wasabi was up for sale and inquired about purchasing it.

Wasabi has been featured in publications such as Food & Wine and Budget Travel magazines. The restaurant’s atmosphere is lively, a mood that is accentuated by the colorful walls and energetic wait staff. Greenstein said: “I don’t want fine dining that’s so proper and prim.”

Greenstein takes great pride in her waiters, waitresses and hostesses. She said if someone stops by without a reservation and can’t get in, her hostesses try to accommodate. They’ll shuffle and add tables if possible without cramming, or if a wait is necessary, they’ll take a cell phone number, recommend a good bar to get a drink and give a call when a table opens up.

“They’ll do everything imaginable to get you a seat,” Greenstein said. “They’re amazing.”

Wasabi is expanding its “Community Nights,” which raise money for a different local organization by promoting the organization in advertisements and donating 10 percent of all revenue earned on selected nights. In addition to helping out local organizations, “Community Nights” also introduce new customers to Wasabi. People who would never think to step foot in a sushi restaurant find themselves perusing the menu in support of a good cause.

These first-time customers discover something that brings many of them back: There’s an entire grill portion of the menu, with steak, duck, lamb, noodle dishes, chicken, salmon, salads, soups and more. Greenstein said the menu offers a compromise for those people who say: “I like sushi, but my husband doesn’t.” And sometimes Greenstein finds a few sushi converts.

Seventeen years ago when the Nagels opened up Wasabi, it surely turned some heads. Today, the restaurant is still turning heads.

“People thought they were crazy,” Greenstein said. “Now look at it.”


More passionate restaurateurs with Whitefish stories can be found at Amazing Crepes, Jersey Boys Pizzeria, Second Street Pizza, Mama Blancas, Last Chair Kitchen and Bar, Montana Coffee Traders, Loula’s, Swift Creek Café, Pescado Blanco, Piggyback BBQ, Whitefish Lake Restaurant and Sweet Peaks Ice Cream.