Montana Original: The Buffalo Cafe

Linda and Charlie Maetzold own the Buffalo Cafe in Whitefish. (Katrice Demont Photo)


By Dave Reese
    Over the last 20 years, Montana has seen thousands of new residents.
While the state has changed, some things like the Buffalo Cafe in Whitefish have remained institutions - places you can always count on, not just to order something off the menu you had 20 years ago, but maybe to see a familiar face, to sit at a table where you sat with the girlfriend who became your wife. Or quite simply, to be able to count on a meal that's as good today as it was 20 years ago.
    This Whitefish institution has been around since 1983, when Charlie and Linda Maetzold moved the cafe from Bigfork to Whitefish.
    Fans soon followed.
    Now, enter the Buffalo on any given day and you'd better be ready to wait for a table, unless of course you're one of the working-class folks who gets up at the crack anyway. But if you're among the resort set, which arrives after 9 a.m., just wait until the rest of us finish our meals, thank you.
    Any more, you never know who you're going to run into at the Buffalo Cafe. Used to be, it was the place for locals to grab a bite before work, and for local coffee clatches to bat around the local politics and business of the day. These days you're just as apt to be sitting next to a table of dot-com millionaires as you are a local railroad worker.
That's what makes the Buffalo Cafe so unique.
Over the years, the newcomers have been around long enough that they're now almost locals, says Linda Maetzold, the matriarch of The Buffalo Cafe.
    Everyone has their own favorite at the Buff, never to be strayed from. Once you have a Vickie's Huevos or Dow's Huevos, or a McCabe's (blueberry pancakes with bacon and eggs), that's your calling card and you're stuck with it. Sure, you can venture over to the special of the day, or try a stack of Buffalo pancakes, but it's those time-tested favorites that will always call you back.
After 23 years, of serving 400 meals a day, Linda and Charlie will welcome the day when one of their children will take over the restaurant. Until then, you can count on Linda meeting you with a smile and a menu, and Charlie's banter audible from behind the grill.
    "It's nice that we're an older part of the town now," says Linda. "After all these years you get used to being a part of the fabric of the community. That's comforting."
For the Maetzold family, owning the Buffalo Cafe gave them a chance to own a thriving business while being able to raise a family. "We weren't crazy restaurant people working nights," Linda says. "The kids could come eat lunch during school, and when we close at 2 o'clock, Charlie's either on the river or up on the ski hill.
We're still enjoying it. It's been a really good life for us."
    The cafe was once known for closing on days when the six-inch rule was met: six inches of new snow in the parking lot.
    That rule has fallen by the wayside now, as the Buffalo Cafe now has enough employees to cover for Charlie in case he needs a powder fix.
Whitefish is a town of people coming and going, of  businesses starting and businesses closing. But with a new Maetzold generation coming up, the Buffalo Cafe will likely be here for a long time, says Linda. "People like coming back and knowing that the Buffalo is still there."

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