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Flavor Moments: How Three Billings Restaurants Adapted To Forced Closures

Plastic entrance of Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion to accommodate takeout orders.
Stella Fong
Yellowstone Public Radio
Jimmy Li peaks through a plexiglass window he installed at Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion in Billings to abide by new social distancing guidelines.


Bars and restaurants found some creative ways to stay in business during Montana’s mandated month long business closure. In this Flavor Moment, Stella Fong of Flavors Under the Big Sky checks in with three Billings eateries about what it took to stay afloat.

When Governor Steve Bullock announced closure dine in food service and alcoholic beverages, Jimmy Li of Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion responded.

"We closed for about a month," Li says. 

In the interim, Li helped two of his ten employees by providing a home or food.

"They lived in my house and I didn’t charge any rent and we have a restaurant and we have rice flour, vegetables. I just told them when you are not working, you’re welcome to take this home and cook it yourself," Li says. 

When Li reopened for takeout a few weeks ago, to protect his restaurant and his customers, he modified his main entrance by covering the main door with hard plastic.

" [We] made a window on the front door. We can pass the food out through the little window," Li says.

For now, Li has chosen not to reopen Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion for dining in but will continue serving up takeout.

We now go across town to Buffalo Block where General Manager Mitch Fox shared of the lockdown.

"We are fortunate where we work for some fantastic people and we didn’t lay anybody off," Fox says.

However, Fox admitted to being reluctant to the change in serving up their food.

"We’re not a takeout restaurant. We really never allowed it before because you order a steak by the time you get it home, it’s cold and it’s not the same experience and it’s not what we want to be known for, cold lackluster product. So it’s been an adjustment trying to create items that we feel will travel well," Fox says

So the team at Buffalo Block came up with Cookin’ with Chef, a live video cooking class on Facebook with Executive Chef Austin Stewart. After purchasing a cooking kit, customers joined online to cook up their dinner. Unfortunately, all this has ended as Buffalo Block reopens for dine in business this week.

Finally, Flavor Moments takes you to Bistro Enzo to talk to Executive Chef James Honaker.

"Well to begin with, we tried to keep several employees, maybe five or six out of the 31 by doing takeout for two weeks but it is not the most practical or profitable thing to do," Honaker says. 

Even though not practical, the phones at Bistro Enzo rang off the hook for their takeout. For now, Honaker will be reopening the restaurant this next week. He had hoped to close the sale of his restaurant at the end of March.

"It is still in progress and there’s still a closing date but it has to be after the payroll protection plan ends. I will say July 1st is now a target date," Honaker says. 

For now, Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion will continue takeout while Buffalo Block and Bistro Enzo will reopen into a new way of dining and drinking seasoned with increased sanitation and social distancing.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.