|By Christene Meyers, Billings Gazette, Mont.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 18, 2004--GALLATIN GATEWAY, Mont. -- The grand railroading days of one of the West's most famous hostelries are being honored in new management at the historic Gallatin Gateway Inn.
Seasoned in the hosting business, Steven and Janice Fine came from California just three months ago. Steven, managing partner, and Janice, food and beverage director, were selected by an investment group headed by John Power, to pump new life, energy and ideas into the 1927 inn.
Power is known for his inventive Sea Ranch in Northern California, a resort that blends the beauty of the ocean and rugged coastline with top amenities, food and a climate for relaxation and touring.
The Fines had worked with Power for years at Sea Ranch, "so we were naturals for the job," Steven said.
Working with Power, they are planning many changes. Some are already in place.
"We were torn about what to do with the dining facilities," Steven said.
"The main dining room is so large, it needs to have a lot of people, so we decided to offer a dining room in the bar area."
That place, the Baggage Room, now offers appetizers and main courses, reflecting the Western setting of the inn and the eclectic tastes of international travelers.
Executive chef Michael J. Showers, who has a restaurant and banquet background in Seattle, has been in place only a month. His menu is a work in progress, the Fines said. "In fact you could say that about the whole place," Steven said.
"I wanted someone who could prepare elegant food in quantity and who could also satisfy hearty appetites with some fun stuff," Steven said.
The Fines agree that they want to "get a lot of energy going," expanding the long and loyal rapport with both local and tourist clientele, while always reminding people through art and special touches that the place was the first railroad hotel outside a national park. For that, it gained national publicity.
"We are looking at a redesign of the Baggage Room to make it more of a restaurant and less of a bar," says Steven. "We have tremendous work ahead of us, and we're using a three-to-five-year game plan."
Already, the guest rooms are being upgraded and the railroading theme is being reinforced with the artwork of Gary Pember, of Auburn, Wash.
His colored pencil series, "No More Mountains To Cross," will hang throughout the property, emphasizing the railroading background when women powdered their noses in the day rooms and the gentlemen gathered for after-dinner cognac. The series will also incorporate the connection to Yellowstone National Park, which was a natural stopping off spot for travelers of the day, just as it is now. "Pember is a huge train nut, very knowledgeable about the history, so he's perfect," Steven said.
The Fines' dreams and wish list includes some changes in the physical plant, too, and a change of attire for staff.
For example, guests may be checked in at the reception desk by someone in a bell-man or conductor uniform. "There will be little special touches, we hope, that will remind of the heritage," Steven said.
Those who enjoy the large, familiar dining room may still enjoy it for weddings, receptions, family reunions, birthday celebrations and the like. And it is still available for other purposes if booked in advance, say for large group dinners, small business meetings that incorporate a meal with a company lecture-slide presentation. Up to 120 people may be seated in the room.
The Fines plan to replace carpeting, perhaps add some antiques and generally reinforce the railroading theme in the decor.
"The carpet now is '50s Vegas, and it just doesn't work with our vision," Steven said.
In a flexible, eclectic style, he also hopes to continue the concerts that became a main attraction at the inn in the 1980s. In recent years, the inn has hosted internationally famous soloists and ensembles, such as the award-winning Muir Quartet, whose cellist Michael Reynolds is a Bozeman native.
"How much can we accomplish?" Steven asked. "We don't know. We have a lot of work to do, but we're finding tremendous response from the community. And people passing through seem excited."
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