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Flavors Moment: Red Lodge restaurants see signs of recovery after June flood

Red Box Car Community.jpg
Stella Fong
Yellowstone Public Radio
A sign outside the Red Box Car in Red Lodge

It’s been a month since Rock Creek in Red Lodge washed through the center of town, damaging homes and businesses in its wake.

In the aftermath, the community came together to support each other and clean up. Now, some restaurants in Red Lodge say they’re open for business and awaiting guests from near and far.

At Red Box Car, waters from the raging river diverted into town just below the iconic eatery located at the creek’s edge. Owner Adam Kaylor and his wife, Ashley, moved to Red Lodge a year ago from West Virginia to take over the business operated out of a red train car.

They didn't hesitate to jump right in to help the community.

“We were only cooking but we knew we could contribute in that way," Adam Kaylor said. "We went to Billings and loaded up on pork shoulder and fired up the smoker and just started slinging food.

"I mean, there were volunteers filling sandbags, there were people at the Red Cross. There were people at their homes down in town that they couldn’t get out so we delivered to them.”

Days later the couple re-opened their business — now in its 50th year — but with entrances to Yellowstone National Park then closed, tourists were not coming after Mother Nature’s wrath. Still, Kaylor says, “I think we’re going to rebound and recover from it."

Red Box Car is recovering, and their grill and smoker are primed and ready to serve. And, in its 50th year, the restaurant is updating its offerings.

"It has traditionally been burger, shakes, soft serve ice cream," Kaylor said. "We have wraps. We have grilled chicken salads, chicken Caesar wraps. We also offer a little bit of Tex-Mex.”

In town, Gena Burghoff of Prerogative Kitchen has seen a definite slowdown in the restaurant’s business since its recognition for Best Chef Mountain for Chris Lockhart and Danny Mowalt from the James Beard Foundation earlier this year. The floods brought challenges.

“It was pretty dramatic as our staff went because three were left completely homeless, they lost everything and we had three more that had to adjust or move out," Burghoff said. "They just needed money to replace a lot of items. So we started a Go Fund Me almost right away.”

The effort raised most of the money needed to replace items lost in the flood. But Burghoff’s husband and Prerogative chef Chris Lockhart says he's uncertain of this season’s business.

“It’s been a challenge for sure and we were anticipating a record summer for the business especially after COVID and the fires last year," he said. "We have had record sales over the winter and we got the James Beard nod and definitely that brought more people in the off season between winter and summer.

"And Mother Nature came and you can’t do anything about it.”

But there's still optimism, says Gena Burghoff.

“The wonderful thing about Red Lodge is that we are a resilient community,” she said.

Prerogative will continue to offer their rotating a la carte chalkboard menu and wines from their wine wall, but, Gena says, “our goal is to keep our menu fresh and seasonal like it always has been.”

At the entrance of Red Lodge, the One Legged Magpie — once the Bull ‘n Bear — has new owners, Kat and Mike Porco, and a new chef, Nicholas Morris.

The Porcos, who opened the saloon, restaurant, and ballroom a year ago, found solace in reaching out to the community, serving up food made from scratch even when they had lost personal property.

“We all needed a place to come and just be able to get back to the basics of supporting each other," Kat Porco said.

The story behind the naming of the One Legged Magpie encapsulates the spirit of not only the restaurant, but the town of Red Lodge.

"This mangy bird flew right across the table and fell on the ground and tumbled and I looked at him and I was [like], 'Oh my gosh, it’s a magpie with one leg,'" Porco remembered. "And that felt like the adventure we were on, like that we didn’t have a background on this and we were taking something that didn’t necessarily look like us.

"Tenacity and persistence was what I saw in that bird."

With tenacity and persistence the Red Box Car, Prerogative Kitchen and One Legged Magpie are bringing flavor back to Red Lodge to locals and tourists.

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.