Buttercup Cafe changes owners, but keeps devotion to neighborhood, local foods

Tadra Stekly, left, and Molly Galusha at Molly’s home garden. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

When Molly Galusha looks back on the eight years she owned and operated the Buttercup Market & Cafe on Helen Avenue, she remembers her customers and the person who taught her everything about cooking: her grandmother Buttercup.

“Buttercup taught me,” Galusha said. “That’s how she entertained us when she was babysitting us. She let us make messes, because you have to make a mess to cook.”

Galusha’s grandmother owned a dairy farm in the Helena Valley, and taught Galusha to appreciate locally grown foods through gardening and trading with others.

It was a way of life that resonated with Galusha, and which she shared with others at her University Area cafe, shopping at Missoula’s farmers markets and encouraging her employees to prepare family recipes and their own creations using local foods.

“Buttercup was a locavore before it was a style because she had a big garden, she preserved lots of things, she bartered for food that she didn’t have,” Galusha said. “It wasn’t fancy stuff, it was delicious, and that’s what I learned from her.”

Now the cafe is transitioning to new ownership, and will be renamed Nonna’s Neighborhood Eatery. The word “Nonna” is Italian for “Grandmother.”

“I wanted to keep the grandma feel,” said Tadra Stekly, Nonna’s owner. “Grandma’s arms and kitchen were always open to everyone and anyone, and that’s what our cafe will be. It’s open for all walks of life, all types of people, and we just want to feed their hearts through their bellies.”

The new cafe will offer breakfast and lunch, using locally sourced bakery items, sandwiches, soups and more. The building is undergoing a remodel, and will feature a large dining room on the main floor and a study lounge in the loft, Stekly said.

The new cafe should open in June or July.

“Every neighborhood needs a gathering spot,” Galusha said. “Otherwise, you’re just so isolated if you can’t walk and bike there.”

The Buttercup Cafe’s beginnings weren’t easy, as residents in the University District had pushed back against commercialization by enacting protective zoning in 1995. So before she could open in 2011, Galusha had to fight for her business by changing the zoning and winning over the neighborhood.

The building at 1221 Helen Ave. was built in 1914, and previously housed two other businesses, including Freddy’s Feed & Read and a university market.

Galusha had many regulars, including a woman who visited every day and read thick books with her coffee and another customer who felt less isolated because of the neighborhood cafe.

“Places like that help you age gracefully,” Galusha said. “And that was very much evident with my clientele.”

Stekly is hopeful that she’ll live up to Missoula’s expectations, while also making the cafe her own. She found that her passion was the restaurant industry after many career changes as a massage therapist, flight attendant and dental assistant.

“The part that’s attracted me to all of those different jobs has been service and customer service and the people. I love food, and that’s always brought me back to the restaurant industry,” Stekly said.

While working for a restaurant in Spokane, Stekly found encouragement from the owner to follow her dream of starting a business. Now, she brings that optimism to creating a new neighborhood cafe.

“I credit her, a lot, for making me realize that this is a dream of mine. I think it has always been sitting there,” Stekly said. “I want to run my own spot and have it be mine to give to the community.”

Contact reporter Mari Hall via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.