October 28, 2019

Betty’s Kitchen, Sleeping Buffalo and Heidelhaus: Montana Restaurants, 1984

by Molly Kruckenberg, 
MHS Research Center Program Manager

In 1984 Ray Risho, a chef and restaurateur from Missoula, traveled across the length and breadth of Montana, stopping at restaurants in every small town or crossroads that he found.  As a former chef at Emmaus Road restaurant in Missoula and a cooking instructor, Risho understood the restaurant business.  In his work as a wine salesman in 1984, Risho visited and reviewed 450 different eating establishments across Montana.  The restaurants included everything from the “finest continental restaurants” to small, family cafes.  The reviews resulted in the book Risho’s Registry: From Absarokee to Zortman, A Town-by-Town Review of Montana Eateries.

In the course of gathering the information for Risho’s Registry, Risho also gathered menus from many of the restaurants and cafés that he visited.  Ray and his wife, Susie, recently donated those menus to the Research Center at the Montana Historical Society.  Their menu collection contains 288 menus from 87 different towns across Montana.  They represent all types of eating establishments, from the fanciest restaurant in Whitefish to the local café in Saco.   This menu collection is important in that it is representative of the restaurant business in Montana at a time before the wide-spread introduction of national chains to the state.  The menus are from single location restaurants for the most part, although there are a few restaurants that could be considered Montana chains, having multiple locations within the state. 

Menus provide a wealth of information, in both their content and their design.  They provide us with information on the popularity of different foods at certain time periods and, when looked at over time, can provide evidence of changing culinary tastes.  They indicate what and how particular foods were utilized locally and regionally.  The graphic designs of menus show the use of design elements over time.

The Montana menus in the Ray Risho Menu Collection provide all of these different insights for restaurants in Montana at one specific time – 1984.  In that way, they provide a snapshot of both common and unique foods being served.    The collection contains menus from Montana icons – Lydia’s in Butte, On Broadway in Helena, The Mustard Seed in Missoula – as well as many establishments that did not survive the last ensuing decades.  Fare in Montana restaurants in 1984 was as diverse as the many towns that populated the state.  Steak, burgers and pizzas share menu space with German, Mexican, Oriental, Lebanese and Hungarian foods.  Sandwich shops and pancake houses vied for customers with supper clubs, inns and cafés.  

Whether you are studying the foods Montanans were eating, the types of restaurants found in the state or graphic design of menus, we invite you to visit the MHS Research Center to see the wealth of menus in the Ray Risho Menu collection.