For Shawnna and Willie Steele, the question of why they would hope to open a business in downtown Kalispell is a bit of a red herring. In the Steeles' case, it was only a matter of when. It happened for them earlier this summer, when Shawnna discovered the historic Forge building on First Street West was up for lease. Catering a wedding using a Traeger grill had them thinking about starting a restaurant, but they needed the right spot.
The Steeles, who had been living in Portland for 17 years, knew the Forge's availability was a sign to move back and start up the Desoto Grill, which offers a unique array of barbecue on its menu.
"It's beautiful," Willie said of the building. "This has our hearts. This screams downtown Kalispell."
Willie grew up in Kalispell, and spent much of his time carving up the runs on Big Mountain. The people here are a major draw, he said. The Flathead is a community, where people are friendly, work together, and know they live in a special place.
His grandfather worked as a mechanic in Kalispell in the 1920s, driving Willie's love for automobiles; the restaurant is named after his grandfather's 1954 Desoto Powermaster, which Willie now owns.
Running the Desoto Grill in downtown Kalispell means staying in touch with his roots, but Shawnna and Willie both say it was a strategic move as well. Residents tend to support the local businesses well, they said, and their unique brand of barbecue and atmosphere fits in well within the variety of diverse businesses making up Kalispell's core.
Their dedication to all things local continues in their food: their meat comes from Lower Valley Processing, and their milk from Kalispell Kreamery. Their eggs are local as well.
The menu has barbecue joint staples, such as the tender brisket and flavorful pulled pork, as well as other “twisted” items, as Shawnna calls them. These creations include barbecue nachos, stuffed baked potatoes – full of sour cream, butter, cheddar cheese, scallions, bacon, roasted corn, brisket, pulled pork, and Shawnna’s “Q” sauce – and Frito pie. "(The stuffed baked potatoes) are quickly becoming a favorite," Shawnna said.
Opening their restaurant was never about doing the tried and true, the Steeles said, but rather bringing a new, fresh take on food for the enjoyment of residents and tourists alike. "We didn't want to do what everybody else was doing in town," Shawnna said.