Little Star Diner

photos by Zach Hoffman, by Jessica Lewis

The farm-to-table movement has emerged as one of the biggest trends in today’s culinary world. The phrase “farm to table” is a buzzword referring to food made with locally sourced, natural, and organic ingredients. Our society is in a rapid state of technological innovation - meaning we often compromise health and nutrition for the sake of convenience. However, a growing number of consumers are seeking healthier and more environmentally friendly alternatives to the processed foods dominating grocery store shelves.

The ever-growing trend toward locally sourced meals is heartening for anyone who values eating well, not to mention saving the planet. Little Star Diner, a breakfast and lunch spot new to Bozeman, has taken “eating local” to the next level by actually growing their own food.  Little Star Diner was started by husband and wife duo Charley Graham and Lauren Reich. Charley runs the restaurant and Lauren grows and provides the herbs and vegetables for the diner. In the midst of winter, local growers and ranches provide any produce the diner cannot grow itself. Additionally, the diner sources all of its meat locally and even bakes its own bread and other goodies in-house with Montana flour and grains.

Jessica Lewis: Tell me a little about yourself; what made you want to get into the restaurant business?
Charley Graham: My wife, Lauren, and I are equal partners in the business. From the beginning phase and through the whole thing, we’ve both worked full time on it. We started being interested in opening a restaurant about five years ago and we had both been working in restaurants. I was cooking and she was serving. Then she had started working on farms instead of serving and began selling produce to restaurants that I was cooking in. We were working around restaurants for about eight years and wanted to try it on our own. We were living in Moab and thought about what it’d be like to have a restaurant there with a garden attached to it, but it was hard to grow anything there because it’s a desert. We went on a big road trip around the West and really liked Bozeman. Pulling off the freeway and going down Main Street felt nice and it was something we were looking for. So we moved here, and I worked for Blackbird Kitchen for five years. We tried to get a couple startups to happen and they would fall through for some reason or another. We tried to rent Frank’s from the previous owners and then they decided to sell it. The new owners had this vision to tear it down and start new, so we negotiated rent with them and helped give our perspective on the design process and the kitchen.

JL: How was Little Star Diner conceptualized? How did this place come about?
CG: We wanted to bring the farm-to-table excellence to breakfast and lunch that is present at dinner but to try and offer that kind of food that isn’t as expensive. You can’t sell things at breakfast and lunch for the same price that you do at dinner, which is good and bad but mostly good for the customer. Lauren has a big garden in our backyard with three greenhouses; she’s growing as much as she can for us this year. Depending on how busy we get, it won’t be the majority but a significant amount. I’d say about a quarter of the vegetables. The menu in the growing season will start with what Lauren is growing and what Gallatin Valley Botanicals is growing. We get most of our vegetables from those two places.

 JL: What makes Little Star Diner unique in Bozeman? What do you offer that other places don’t?
CG: The farm being so closely connected is the thing that sets us apart the most. I’m excited to try and get the vegetables and try and get them onto plates as fast as possible. I don’t think it’s very easy to do that unless you have your own garden. In the winter, our coffee is really good and our baked products I really like - the biscuits and sourdough bread I’m starting to realize I can put any number of things on top of the toast and it’ll taste good.

JL: What do you want people to experience here when they step through your doors?
CG: My ideal customer experience is a new and old blending of the old school American diner where you sit up at the counter and the cooks are on the other side of the counter from you. In this situation, all of the chairs are handmade and really comfortable and the food is a little bit more creative than your classic diner would be. It still feels really comfortable and homey.

JL: Who made your chairs then? These things are insane!
CG: My dad did. His name’s Joe Graham; he’s been a chair maker for 40 years. This was his retirement and last chair project. I feel really lucky to have these chairs in the restaurant. It’s a good standard to measure the food against.
JL: What do you enjoy most about being part of Bozeman?
CG: The thing I really appreciate about Bozeman is the balance that I am able to achieve here. We live three miles off Main Street and three miles off the trailhead, and I can ride my bike to work but still have the downtown right here. It has some aspects of small city life that are nice without being inundated by it.

JL: What’s your most popular dish?
CG: Probably the Eggs Benedict, with flaky buttermilk biscuits and I make the most basic hollandaise sauce possible with just butter and egg yolk. I put lemon juice and lemon zest in it, so I guess the zest is the only thing that could be taken out and still have hollandaise. The super basic hollandaise seems to pair well with an herb like thyme or sage, or basil during the summer. I like having the basic hollandaise; butter tastes good.

If you haven’t made a trip to the Little Star Diner, I highly suggest trying their eggs benedict. The diner offers sausage, bacon, or vegetarian (with butternut squash!) options - all of which are something to remember. Each time I visit Little Star Diner, I am delighted to find new menu options centered on what is in season and available, making me excited to go back time and again. Aside from breakfast and lunch, Little Star Diner began hosting monthly Full Moon Dinners. Little Star Diner is located near the corner of Babcock Street and Wallace Avenue at 548 E Babcock Street and is open daily for breakfast and lunch from 8am-2pm. 

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