Old Salt Co-op plans to expand into Bert & Ernie’s on Last Chance Gulch and open a butcher shop, bar and restaurant serving up locally produced meat.
During a pre-application meeting with city staff Monday afternoon, the Helena-based limited liability corporation announced its intention to purchase the property and outlined fairly extensive plans to remodel the space, bring its fire suppression systems up to code and install a wood-fired grill.
In an interview Tuesday, Old Salt Co-op Culinary Director Andrew Mace said the sale of the property is not final and declined to comment further. The property is currently listed for $1,699,900.
He told city staff Monday his group is initiating communication with the city early on in the process.
“The main point of us going through this is just to get ahead of any potential upgrades from the city’s perspective or issues that jump out to them that we can begin to work on at this point,” Mace said during the meeting.
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The proposed business is called Butchers Table by Old Salt Co-op and is described in a pre-application information form as an “Old World butcher shop with a bar and wood-fired grill restaurant.”
“We hope to breathe new life and purpose into a beloved building with a long hospitality history at 361 North Last Chance Gulch,” the form states. “At its core, this space will remain a bar and restaurant and the core function of the building will be used in the same way it has for the last 30-plus years.”
The biggest lift in the remodel, according to city staff members who attended the meeting, will be the fire suppression systems.
Preliminary designs look to remove the drop ceiling from above the western side of the dining area, providing an opportunity to better address the fire suppression systems in the process.
Mace also noted the addition of a wood-fired grill comes with “significant code requirements” to meet and that Old Salt, CWG Architecture and Diamond Construction are working in tandem with Helena Fire Marshal Lou Antonick to address those requirements.
Antonick said the fire alarm and sprinkler systems will require annual inspections after their deficiencies are corrected.
The form further states the bar, dining room, bathrooms, structural walls and outdoor seating areas will remain unchanged except for cosmetic upgrades, but Helena’s Chief Building Official Kimberley Mack said the restrooms may need to be expanded to meet code requirements.
Helena Transportation Engineer Mark Young noted Bert & Ernie’s had an exclusive right-of-way use permit for its patio dining that will need to be reviewed.
“(W)e’ll just need to revisit that and discuss it as far as if we can transfer or if we just have to do a new one,” Young said.
Butchers Table by Old Salt Co-op also plans to take over the existing beer and wine license.
“We’d be looking to use the beer and wine license in exactly the same way its being used now, and we’re working with the existing owner to work on that transfer of operating that license,” Mace said.
DeWolf’s LLC, run by Toby DeWolf, is still listed as the building’s owner. DeWolf did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
DeWolf became involved in the business in 1987, bought in as a partner in 1995 and became the sole owner in 1997.
Old Salt, the one-time cooperative turned corporation, consists of partnering local cattle ranches Sieben Live Stock Company in Cascade County, J Bar L Ranch in Sweet Grass County, and Mannix Beef in nearby Powell County.
The group opened Old Salt Outpost inside Last Chance Gulch’s Gold Bar in October 2021.
Old Salt also recently received $150,000 in American Rescue Plan Act federal aid to offset the cost of opening a proposed $6 million expansion of the business into the processing side of the industry. The company currently operates the facility, located at 2840 Bozeman Ave., as a custom exempt meat processing plant mostly processing wild game for consumption by the meat owner, but intends to upgrade the license in the future to allow for meat processing for commercial sale in retail outlets such as Butchers Table.
Cole Mannix, head of Old Salt, previously told the Independent Record the opening of a meat processing plant nearby would better position the company to market cuts of home-grown beef to Montanans at prices that can compete with the grocery store chains.
Mace said Old Salt’s vertically integrated business model will allow it to save on costs by cutting out the heavily consolidated meat packing industry. He said he expects the cost of meat sold at Butchers Table to fall somewhere between the price of supermarket cuts and premium cuts marketed as such.
“We’re being very intentional about not pricing out everyday Montanans,” Mace said. “We want to keep prices as low as we can while still paying our employees good wages.”