HELENA — You may have heard the old adage “A way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.” Well, that certainly seems to be the case at Steve’s Cafe where their motto is “Breakfast and Lunch Among Friends.”
Steve’s Cafe has served millions of meals since the first location opened its doors in 2009, but now the restaurants are up for sale.
The name of the building may be “Steve’s” but it’s always been a partnership between Steve and Penny Vincelli.
The two first met at Los Angeles Harbor College. Penny pursued nursing and Steve studied business.
“When we were ready to have kids, we were in southern California so we wanted to get out,” recalled Steve. “So we moved to Missoula and after five years I got promoted and sent to Seattle. And then I left [the company] after 18 years and all the family wanted to come here.”
The Vincellis said a big part of starting their own business was wanting to work for themselves.
The first restaurant by the Vincellis in the Helena area was the Montana City Grill which debuted in 1999. The couple ran the restaurant for eight years before selling.
Their next venture, Steve’s Cafe, opened in 2009 on Custer Avenue.
“Breakfast is my favorite meal. So I told him, you know I bet we’d do really well with breakfast so away we went,” said Penny.
Doing well may be a bit of an understatement, although the Vincellis are too humble to say so.
Thanks to the first Steve’s Cafe’s success they opened two more locations less than four years later. Their second location was in Meridian, Idaho where their son, also named Steve, was living. A third location on North Montana Avenue in Helena opened shortly after.
The cafe has won multiple “Best Of” awards throughout the years and the family made sure to support local nonprofits in their community along the way.
“I think if we were younger there would be a lot more, but we kind of gave up looking. Things have changed so much between COVID, employees and food costs. We decided this is plenty,“ said Steve.
A sense of family has always been important to the Vincelli’s, with personality being the most important quality for hires.
“We hire more for personality than skill because it’s so important. You can’t teach personality. You can teach skill, but you can’t teach personality, ” Steve explained.
The designs of the restaurants are also very intentional, with the goal of feeling like you’re being welcomed into an older home.
“So many people don’t have family,” Penny said. “So our focus was to create a design that looked like an old-fashioned house. So when you go into the restaurant you have a dining room, a living room and a kitchen.”
Steve’s Cafe was always planned to be a long-term operation according to the owners.
“I think the concept works. I think the formula works,” noted Steve. “We have 10-year leases, we started with 10-year leases which is kind of unheard of because most can’t commit that long because they don’t know if it’s going to work.”
But even long-term plans eventually need to change.
Steve’s Cafe in Meridian is now Terri’s Cafe after their manager purchased the location from them.
And now, Steve and Penny are ready to sell their Helena locations to spend more time on their ranch where they raise highland cattle and enjoy time with their family.
Whoever purchases Steve’s Cafe will get all the recipes, and the Vincelli’s are hoping its a turn-key operation for the new owners.
“We hope whoever buys it has the same success,” Steve said. “We’re trying to set up whoever buys it that they’re not missing anything, we’ve got everything ready to go.”
But the Vincelli’s say they are going to take care when considering who to sell the business to. They want to make sure whoever purchases the properties is a good fit for the restaurants, the customers and the employees.
“It’s really, really important because we want it to be successful and if someone comes in here and doesn’t have the right heart, then it won’t work,” explained Penny.
After a quarter century of serving meals in the greater Helena area, the Vincellis’ message to the people who have enjoyed their food over the years is pretty simple.
“Just that we’re thankful, just thankful to be privileged to do this and come see us at the ranch,” said Penny with a laugh.
Things may be changing at Steve’s Cafe, but for Steve and Penny things are looking sunny side up. They have a plethora of grandchildren and fluffy cows to focus on in the future.