Missoula Restaurant Says Goodbye with Request for ‘Greatest Hits’
Earlier this week, a local Missoula restaurant announced on its Instagram page that it would be closing. Its last day will be September 9.
Second Set Bistro, located in the Florence Building, has been creating exploratory and comfortable food since 2019. Partner and Executive Chef Raz Schneider conceived of the restaurant when he was living in Cooke City but he says the restaurant had challenges.
"It never really connected with the people outside of our bubble, I suppose," Schneider says. "People love Second Set and had amazing experiences there. And the food was great, and the service was great, but we just had no visibility. So that put us at a really tremendous disadvantage, as opposed to the other restaurants downtown. A lot of people still have never been. They don't know where it's at."
Visibility and misunderstanding Second Set's intention also created a "disconnect with people in Missoula."
"The second set of a musical performance," Schneider says, "the improvisation...we wanted to bring that same excitement to the food and the service and the restaurant. But it never really panned out that way. For a lot of reasons. It's super complicated, but it just ended up being a separation of what Second Set meant to us and how it was presented, and then how people kind of took it in. I think it kind of got a little bit jumbled, the message and what we're doing."
One contributing factor to the disconnect may have been the location itself. The legacy of the Florence Building gave the impression to many Missoulians that Second Set Bistro was considered fine dining.
"The decor of the restaurant, and the space, I think kind of demanded something that we weren't."
When Second Set opened, the restaurant had tablecloths, which might have suggested a more formal dining experience, but Schnider explains, "... that was out of necessity. The tables that we bought were in bad shape, so we had to cover them up because they were just sh---. I mean, functionally, they were fine, but they were just beat-up old tables, you know. We didn't have a bunch of money at that point. And so we're like, 'Oh, we'll just put tablecloths on,' I think people just assumed that it was a fine dining place. That was the reputation that it had, and so people wouldn't come in because they just thought that it was a special occasion sort of restaurant."
The restaurant never intended to be fine dining, according to Schneider. In fact, one of their most popular dishes was the fried chicken. And the message of Second Set was in the food itself.
"Some of the ingredients that we use aren't familiar to people. And maybe that's where it's like, "Oh, it's fine dining, because it's an ingredient I don't understand," but with music, especially improvisational music, sometimes it gets a little bit scary. If you don't trust it, or follow it all the way through to the end, you may not understand it. But if you do, you end up getting the big hug. At the end of it, there's that tension and release. That's the energy and theory when we're building dishes, to what Second Set was supposed to be."
As a nod to what Second Set is, they are inviting the public to request their favorite dishes over the next few weeks, like an album of 'Greatest Hits,' and they'll be featured on the menu. Requests have included fried chicken, Cubanos, ragu and vegan pot stickers. "We'll keep doing Second Set stuff until we're done. We're not just like, waving the white flag and, half-assing it. We're gonna keep going until we're done to get people that experience, hopefully."
As for what's next, Schneider says he doesn't know, but he has learned from this experience.
"If we do a next venture, we're going to work hard to be able to make sure that our message is more clearly received by the people, so they understand what we're all about...We built a cool spot, we're proud of that. It is a shame (Second Set) was never able to meet its full potential, and not to be corny, but there's a reason why, and we get to figure that out and that will be an exciting new chapter."