Lolo Creek Steakhouse – Rare, Yet Well Done.
Nestled along Highway 12 in Lolo, Montana, sits local gem and MEC member, Lolo Creek Steakhouse. Known for their mouth-watering steaks, customers will travel far and wide to visit what the Food Network rated as one of the “Top 50 Steakhouses in the United States.” The cabinesque restaurant beckons locals and tourists, alike, with its Montana-crafted construction, skillfully notched from 150-year-old trees logged near Lolo Pass. In the dining room, a massive wood grill sits center stage and is used to cook steaks made-to-order, over an open flame.
The steakhouse has a long history in Lolo. What was once The Longhorn Steakhouse and Campbell’s Steakhouse, was rebuilt as Guy’s Steakhouse in 1987. Guy sold the restaurant in 2006, to father-son duo, Mike and Matt Grunow. Similar to the steakhouse, the Grunow family is a mainstay of the Lolo community. Mike and his wife, Judy, purchased Lolo Grocery in 1973, followed by Mike’s IGA, Lolo Liquor Store, Lolo Laundromat and several small businesses in Missoula.
Matt can vividly recall sitting on the hill, as a child, watching Guy’s Steakhouse be built after a fire had wiped out Campbell’s Steakhouse. Fast forward to the late-2000’s, Matt left his job at Texas Roadhouse in Billings, to return home and co-purchase the steakhouse from family friend, Guy Leibenguth. The Grunow family had known Guy for decades. Matt reminisced, “My Dad used to play Santa Claus for their family and they used to babysit for us. When they put Guy’s Steakhouse on the market, we decided to take the jump and thought we’d figure out the rest when we got there.”
When asked to describe Lolo Creek Steakhouse, Matt said, “Pure Montana. It’s not formal. We serve anyone from prom dates to loggers and hunters coming off the hill. Everybody is welcome.” The steakhouse serves 14 items and does those limited items well. As you’d imagine, the main focus of the menu is meat, and the steakhouse prepares a mouthwatering ribeye that’s tough to beat. If seafood is more your style, the restaurant also serves seafood, like Copper River Salmon and Sea Bass, fresh from the Pacific.
This April marked the third year of operation for the Lolo Creek Distillery, which was a joint-venture for Matt and his wife, Kasie. The Distillery sits just behind the steakhouse, and overlooks Lolo Peak. When I asked Matt, what led to the distillery, he said, “We knew we needed more room, but as soon as we open or expand our restaurant walls, regulations require us to get rid of our fire pit. So, we expanded with the addition of the distillery, which sits on our former log yard, where we cut wood for the restaurant’s open grill. One day, while cutting wood, I looked over at Lolo Peak and decided this was the perfect location. My wife runs the show at the distillery and deserves all of the credit for its success.”
Steakhouse guests can put their name on the waitlist, hop aboard a complimentary golf cart and head up to the distillery while they wait for a table. “Our view is amazing. People can enjoy a drink or a charcuterie board, with a view, while waiting to be seated for dinner,” Matt elaborated. Lolo Creek Distillery distills Haunted Waters Bourbon (a 4.5-year bourbon), Hucked Huckleberry Bourbon (a 2.5-year bourbon), Honey Hucked Vodka, and Lolo Creek Distillery Vodka and Gin. The Haunted Waters Bourbon is loosely based on Matt’s Great Grandfather’s recipe. In fact, with the help of their Head Distiller, Ryan, their line of liquor will soon be featured on retail shelves in Idaho.
From the restaurant to the distillery, the key to the Grunow’s success is in their people. “Our staff, servers and bartenders are fantastic! We have a core group of managers who have been here for years. Anson, our main cook, has been behind the grill for 30 years. I would put him up against any cook in the country. He can temp 100 steaks and know exactly what table they’re going to. If you don’t have a good staff, it can make this business ten times harder.”
The family dynamic comes with its challenges, but Matt wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve been working with my dad since I was eight years old. We get along fantastically. We’re on the same page and have the same goals.” The family element doesn’t stop with the father-son pair, as Matt’s wife, Kasie, manages the Lolo Creek Distillery. “We all just stay in our own lane and it works. Sure, it’s tough some days, but it takes all of us to get the job done.” When I asked Matt what his proudest accomplishment was, he circled back to his family, again. “Being able to work closely with my family and not having a successful business get between that. I get to work with my Dad every day. I have two boys that can’t wait to start working here. That in itself and the legacy we’re trying to build is probably my proudest accomplishment.”
Matt didn’t always think he’d be a restauranteur. As a kid, he had his sights set high and had plans to become Notre Dame’s Head Football Coach. Although success didn’t culminate on the football field, success did take shape in his life. In fact, Lolo Creek Steakhouse has become quite the celebrity magnet and has fed the likes of David Letterman and the Yellowstone television series cast. You know you’ve made it as a restaurant when your wait is over two-and-a-half hours long!
Even with celebrities and tourists flocking to the Big Sky State to experience a Lolo Creek Steakhouse meal, the locals are what keep them going. “The local support we had after the initial Covid shutdown was overwhelming. It’s hard to open a business, but it’s twice as hard to close a business. We weathered the storm and opened back up to a full house.” Although the unknown was daunting and interpreting the latest rules and policies was a daily challenge, Matt remained positive. “I just kept thinking… being stuck in Montana isn’t so bad. I mean, could you imagine being in a high-rise in NYC staring at another building? I would’ve gone crazy!”
The restaurant currently seats 102 guests, but with the recent addition of a 1,500 sq ft pavilion, approximately 40 – 50 guests can enjoy limited appetizers and cocktails while they wait for a table. Although the pavilion is outside, it will feature specialty walls that can open during warmer months. The distillery seats 33 indoors and 150+ outdoors. It’s the perfect venue to let your kids run around, play cornhole with your buddies or cozy up by a gas fire with a drink. But the restaurant business isn’t all fun and (cornhole) games. “Both the restaurant business and the liquor business are very difficult,” Matt confessed. “Anybody can make it. Anyone can make a steak.”
When I asked Matt what his favorite item on the menu was, I received a quick reply, “Ribeye!” He chuckled, “Once I get sick of eating the ribeye, I’ll know it’s time to move on.” But not to worry folks! Matt assured me that neither he nor Lolo Creek Steakhouse are going anywhere anytime soon. You’re sure to find Matt greeting customers throughout the week or waiting for a table alongside customers on his days off. “We don’t take reservations. You’re seated in the order you arrive. Even as an owner, I’ll come in with my family and wait to eat for an hour. I’ve been offered $500 to seat a table ahead of others and I just tell people they’d be better off paying the person that’s ahead of them because that’s not how we work here.”
Their slogan says it all – “rare, yet well done.” At Lolo Creek Steakhouse, it’s a true Montana experience, with a mouthwatering menu to match. Come see (or rather taste) what all the fuss is about, weekdays from 5 – 9 PM, Saturdays from 4:30 – 10 PM and Sundays 4:30 – 9 PM.
6600 US HWY 12 W.
Lolo, MT 59847