Boxcar: New French-inspired bistro and bar to open in Old Sawmill District

One of the few things the Old Sawmill District neighborhood in central Missoula has been missing until now was a place to have dinner and an adult beverage.

That has now been remedied.

Boxcar, a French-inspired bistro that will serve beer and wine, is slated to open in the space behind the Dog & Bicycle Bakery and Cafe at 875 Wyoming Street at the beginning of May.

“In our vision for the neighborhood, the goal was to always have more options so people could live, work and play,” explained Leslie Wetherbee of OSD Development and Wetherbee Group Real Estate. “We have 500 people living in the neighborhood now, and we wanted to have a coffee shop and a restaurant. It’s also a desirable place to come visit for the rest of Missoula.”

Restaurant manager Ben Burda said Boxcar will be designed as a nod to a time when the Old Sawmill District was a bustling lumber yard with trains running through.

“We’re gonna kinda do a throwback to the ’20s,” Burda said. “We’re focusing on a French-inspired bistro, but obviously that goes with a grain of salt as we adapt to what Missoula is going to want, being it’s in a neighborhood. So, attracting who’s already here as well as bringing people from the rest of town.”

There’ll be outdoor seating, so people can catch the sunset over the Bitterroot mountains.

Inside, they’ve got antique-style chandeliers and mirrors along with a bar that looks like it belongs in a speakeasy or a train car. They found special marble, which Burda said they found out “wasn’t easy to get.”​

“The backbone influence will be a throwback to where the mill boss would want to visit on a date night in the ’20s when this place was active and hoppin’ like it used to be,” he said. “We want to give it that ‘Roaring ’20s’ vibe. We’ll have a strong French wine program and a French beer program and then from there branch down to more relevant to now, so not stodgy French.”

Leslie Wetherbee said the interior’s inspiration comes from dining cars on older trains.

Executive chef Jess Wrightson’s grandmother was a chef at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

“We’d stay with her over the summers and she’d teach us to cook,” he said. “We had a very spoiled childhood. I was very lucky to have a lot of amazing teachers.”

He and his staff will prepare dishes like salmon en papillote (parchment paper) and sardine rillettes.

“Very simple and sexy is what we’re going for here,” he said. “It will change with the season. We want to do farm-to-table and as fresh and local as we possibly can.”

Leslie Wetherbee said they’ve been doing some taste-testing and her review so far is that the food will be “amazing.”

The beer and wine license will allow Dog & Bicycle to serve alcohol for lunch, she noted.

Ed Wetherbee of OSD Development said the site’s history is important.

“Everything we do out here has got some connection to industrial, to history,” he said. “Our slogan is ‘new neighborhood, historic heart,’ so we’re trying to play off everything around us and one of the key aspects to this whole area is the railroad. So when we got to thinking about how to be unique, it was to play off that and it’s consistent with everything else we do. I’ll call it approachable high-end and neighborhood-like.”

Dog & Bicycle and Boxcar will complement each other so people can have a place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, he said. The capacity for the restaurant will be about 45 people, but they’ve completely remodeled the kitchen to serve both Dog & Bicycle and Boxcar.

“Everything’s brand-new,” Burda said. “It’s double in size with the renovation. Everything has gone bigger in scale to accommodate now both operations. It’s a small space but it’s a big kitchen for us.”

A new building to house fast-growing tech company Cognizant ATG is underway across the street, and Wetherbee said the restaurant will hopefully be a community gathering spot.

“A lot of things are very complementary,” he said. “You’ve probably noticed we do everything in relatively small numbers, just because we like it intimate. It fits the neighborhood. We’ve got an awesome team here, and none of this happens without Jess and Ben to pull it together to make it happen.”

An opening date of May 4 has been scheduled, but things could change.

-David Erickson (The Missoulian)