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Gillette sees growing number of new restaurants during pandemic

Opening a restaurant at any time is risky. Opening one during a pandemic is even riskier. But despite the risk, Gillette has seen a handful of new restaurants open their doors in the past year.

The Sherpa Indian Kitchen opened in spring 2020. Philly Shop and Co. opened in the summer. Last fall, Mrs. C’s Catering opened a cafe in the Gillette College Technical Education Center and Frida’s House opened in Camel Plaza. Last month, Katie J’s, a vendor-run market, opened on Gillette Avenue.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Katie Lynde of Katie J’s Bakery prepares items to go on display Saturday morning along Gillette Avenue. Her bakery is one of a handful of new eateries to open in Gillette despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And later this spring, Ranch and Roost, a fast casual restaurant selling burgers and chicken sandwiches, will open next to Big Lost Meadery.

Jessica Seders, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that during the pandemic, especially last summer, Campbell County residents showed support for local restaurants.

“I think our locals really stepped up and ate out more when they could to keep restaurants in business,” she said.

Seders said having a diverse selection of places to eat benefits the community, not just by giving people more options, but also in drawing visitors to Gillette.

Chain restaurants are still popular, but increasing numbers of people are looking for a unique dining experience.

“More and more, people are asking, ‘Where do the locals eat?’” Seders said.

If a town’s residents are eating at a certain restaurant, “that’s the best place to eat,” she said.

This summer, the locals have more options.

Ranch and Roost

When Ranch and Roost opens its doors, it will offer smash burgers and southern-style chicken sandwiches. Owner Aaron Cannon moved to Gillette from Raleigh, North Carolina. He’d spent years in the catering side of the food industry, which is much less risky than opening a restaurant.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Ranch & Roost owner Aaron Cannon, right, checks out the restaurant’s new fry cutter with manager Del Bollinger.

“With catering, you only work when you’re making money,” he said. “The problem with restaurants is, you have to be there even if you’re not making money. It’s an industry that’s just brutal. It demands you all day, every day. In return for that, it usually gives you financial ruin.”

But when Cannon visited Gillette last year, he was surprised with the number of restaurants here.

“It punches so far above its weight class,” he said of the local restaurant scene. “The folks in Gillette do enjoy eating out. They eat out quite a bit. There’s way more restaurants than you’d expect for a town this size.”

The decision to sell burgers and chicken sandwiches came from looking at what Gillette loves, and what it could grow to love if given a chance.

“Every restaurant in town sells a burger. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Cannon said.

On the flip side, KFC is the only place that specializes in fried chicken.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Ranch & Roost owner Aaron Cannon displays a cup from his new restaurant opening on Warren Avenue.

“We’re from the South, we know fried chicken really well. We could make a really fantastic chicken product for the folks here that they’re missing,” he said. “I feel like I can win over a lot of people.”

Ranch and Roost is located at 101 S. Warren Ave. next to Big Lost Meadery’s new location. One of Big Lost’s top requests since it opened has been for it to offer food, Cannon said, so this is a move that will benefit both businesses.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

New restaurant owner Aaron Cannon of Ranch & Roost unpacks items to go into the business’ kitchen April 1.

For Cannon, this is a chance to showcase his food’s quality.

“If you make a good product, made well, made with skill, tastes great, the folks are willing to spend a little more on it,” he said.

He said Pizza Carrello is a good example of this. Its pizza is two or three times the price of Little Caesar’s or Domino’s, but the restaurant stays busy and has built a loyal following.

“I tip my hat to Pizza Carrello. They make a great product,” he said. “They would be successful in any city in the U.S.”

Cannon said he’s trying to keep it as local as possible. If he can’t find a food or a product in Gillette, he’ll try to get it from someplace in Wyoming. If he can’t do that, he’ll look for a regional option.

“We’re attempting as best as we can to keep the money in town,” he said.

Cannon plans on keeping the menu small, so don’t expect to see seafood or salad anytime soon. With just 700 square feet of space to work with, “if we’re going to make the best possible food, we can’t have a big menu.”

Katie J’s

In March, Katie Lynde, a local baker who had a mobile bakery, opened up a storefront, Katie J’s, on Gillette Avenue. It’s not a full-fledged bakery, but more of a vendor-run market.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Katie Lynde of Katie J’s Bakery places items in one of her display cases at Katie J’s Bakery in downtown Gillette on Saturday morning.

Lynde had the mobile bakery for more than a year and “it was fun, until it got cold. And then it was not fun at all,” she said.

She enjoyed being able to park in different locations and meet new people, but from a business standpoint, “it was pretty hard.”

Katie J’s is located at 309 Gillette Ave.and is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Lynde learned how to bake when she was about 8 or 9 years old.

“I always really enjoyed playing with flavors, making something yummy, seeing someone say, ‘This is really good,’” she said.

Lynde, who moved to Gillette from Arizona three years ago, has had to learn about some of the cultural differences in Gillette when it comes to food.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Katie Lynde holds one of her cinnamon rolls freshly baked for her new business, Katie J’s Bakery, Saturday morning.

For example, coffee cake was her top seller in Arizona, “but I wasn’t selling it here at all,” so she stopped making it. While everyone in Arizona has a coffee cake recipe, in Campbell County, “everyone has a gooey caramel roll at their branding season.”

“It’s kind of the culture,” she said. “What you’re raised around is what you’re going to want.”

She’s working on perfecting her caramel roll, so it’s not available every day.

She said she was “a little nervous” opening a storefront during a pandemic, especially since a lot of people aren’t out and about as much as usual.

So far, business has been “surprisingly really good, especially with the snow going on,” she said.

Katie J’s sells cheesecake, muffins, cinnamon rolls, salads and lasagna, and breakfast items are coming soon. There also are non-food vendors that sell jewelry, mugs and soap.

“It creates a beautiful environment,” she said. “We’re a family.”

Lynde has bigger dreams for down the road.

At some point, she’d like to open up a full-fledged bakery in a larger building where she can sell pastries and coffee. But for now, she’s happy with where she’s at.

It’s risky, she said, adding that “I’ve always been one to take a little bit more of a risk.”

Mrs. C’s

Carrie Sieh, owner of Mrs. C’s Catering, opened a cafe in the Gillette College Tech Center last fall. She’d spent the years leading up to that point in the food truck game, but having her own restaurant had been a lifelong dream.

“I want the atmosphere of being able to sit down at grandma’s table and have homemade food,” she said. “My gift that God gave me is putting flavor together. I’ve always loved to cook and watch people eat, that look that people get on their faces when something tastes really, really good, I love that.”

She said it never occurred to her that opening up a cafe in a college building during a worldwide pandemic was not the wisest decision in the world, and “my husband will tell you, I don’t always think things through.”

“I wasn’t worried about it (back then),” she said. “I worry about it now more than when I first opened.”

Compared to the food truck, the cafe is “a lot more work, a lot more overhead.”

“I have to be a lot more astute as a businesswoman,” Sieh said. “It went from having a hobby to having a job, but it’s a job that I love. It never feels like going to work.”

When it comes to the menu, “it’s just a balance of finding things we think people can’t get anywhere else,” she said.

Her favorite items to make are brisket and pulled pork, but Sieh also enjoys the handmade half-pound burgers.

“I love the savory meats, the slow-cooked, fall-apart, melt-in-your-mouth meats that we do,” she said.

Sieh said it’s been a struggle to get the word out that her cafe is open to the public, not just college students. She said the students have been very supportive.

“The kids absolutely love us there. The kids really support us, they’re fabulous. They bend over backward to help us with anything,” she said.

A lot of Sieh’s food is made from her grandmother’s recipes, so she’s “reintroducing foods that people don’t eat anymore, comfort foods from way back when.”

She said she makes her food from the heart, so “I take it very personally when someone doesn’t like something that I’ve created.”

Each morning Sieh said she wakes up grateful to have the opportunity “to go bless somebody with something every day,” she said.

Sieh said she likes seeing Gillette starting to have more options when it comes to food. She doesn’t see them as competition, but rather people following their dreams, just like she is.

“They offer something that I don’t. We can’t all offer the same thing. I’m happy for them,” she said. “The more people that branch off, work for themselves, go back to the roots of being entrepreneurs and growing a business, the more we get back to that, the stronger our community’s going to be.”

With a desk full of soda, potions and dice, Cameron Plough, a senior at Campbell County High School, is ready to begin an afternoon of Dungeons & Dragons.

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Search for hospice solutions expedited
Group will forego study to work on solutions

Health care officials have agreed to push the pace on developing a plan to possibly resume inpatient services at Close to Home Hospice Hospitality House after recently compiling a task force to assess its options.

The first step will be to forgo the initial idea of conducting feasibility studies on the hospice facility’s operations and get straight to work on a business plan that could bring patients back to Close to Home.

The task force created last month at the board’s retreat met recently and after deciding to ditch the feasibility study, hashed out some of the broader questions it would like to have answered in proposed business plans.

“We would like some questions answered on both sides of how much is it going to cost?” Trustee Alan Stuber said at last week’s regular hospital board meeting. “How much is the loss going to be, what can the loss be and who is able to afford what in order to see if we can make this thing happen and reopen.”

The Campbell County Healthcare Foundation has said it is willing to cover some of the operational losses for inpatient hospice services at Close to Home. The amount it is open to paying is dependent, in part, on how much the facility expects to lose under a changed business model.

A report commissioned by CCH this year found that Close to Home could run on an altered business model with expected losses of $170,000. CCH CFO Mary Lou Tate projected that loss could be closer to $300,000.

The task force was initially charged with commissioning a feasibility study to see what kind of modified business plan the hospice facility could sustainably support. Since then, the group decided to forgo the study and get straight to work on developing a business plan.

“After speaking about what was really needed for this task force to be successful … we discussed more of a business plan than a feasibility study,” Stuber said.

Nachelle McGrath, the executive director of the Healthcare Foundation, agreed.

“As much as a feasibility study should have been done at the beginning of the project, it’s kind of irrelevant at this point in time because we have the facility,” she said. “It’s available to provide the service.”

The collaborative spirit is a change of course from the separation between hospital board trustees and the Healthcare Foundation dating back to when inpatient services were first suspended last fall.

At last month’s retreat, both sides aired their grievances with one another about how the Close to Home situation unfolded among other recent communication issues between the organizations. The creation of the joint task force was one means of bringing the two sides together.

In the shared interest of exploring how to make Close to Home’s inpatient services more financially sustainable, the two disparate organizations seem to be aligned.

“For the hospital, I just want to make it really clear (that) what I think this task force was tasked to do was simply figure out how the Hospice House can be successful,” Stuber said. “In my mind, that was to come up with a plan to get it open and for it to be successful.”

A few new members were added to what has been named the Close to Home Task Force in addition those selected at the retreat. Its members now include Trustees Tom Murphy, Lisa Harry and Stuber along with McGrath, Emily Arthun, DaNece Day and Chris Shelledy of the Healthcare Foundation. On behalf of CCH, its chief operating officer, Jerry Klein, rounds out the group.

Once a plan is reached, it will go before both the Healthcare Foundation and hospital board of trustees for review and approval.

McGrath said that there is no timeline yet for when a plan will come together or when inpatient services in some form may resume. But Stuber said the task force will meet as often as needed, even multiple times a week, to expedite the process.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we can come up with a plan to make this successful,” Stuber said.

Greenhouse Group Home to close in July as fallout from state cuts

The Greenhouse Group Home will no longer house residents beginning July 1 as a result of statewide budget cuts that reduced funding for behavioral health programs throughout the state.

The six-bed group home in Gillette, operated in partnership between the Council of Community Services and Campbell County Health, will relocate its residents and lay off its seven full-time workers by the start of July, said Mikel Scott, executive director of the Council of Community Services.

As part of a more than $15 million cut from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Division, CCH had about $800,000 cut from its Behavioral Health Services Community Mental Health Center Grant for fiscal year 2022.

The Greenhouse Group Home’s funding was slashed by more than half with the cuts, forcing it to close and prompting both organizations to evaluate other uses for the Greenhouse facility, according to a CCH press release.

CCH has subcontracted the Council of Community Services to run the group home for the past 15 years. The home has given housing and stability to adults experiencing mental illness and homelessness with the goal of transitioning them into the community.

Both organizations sought solutions to keep the group home open in some capacity, but could not find a feasible way given the cut in state money, Scott said.

Although it is a cost-savings measure by the state, she said that having fewer services for those who need them could add an increased, indirect burden and expense on other services in the community, such as law enforcement, the jail and other emergency services.

“In my mind, there’s just going to be some people with such severe mental illnesses that they will basically always need some form of help,” Scott said.

The cuts will not directly affect other services offered by the agency, but losing one of its resources could indirectly put more pressure on others, such as the homeless shelter.

“It costs more money in the end and it’s inhumane and they don’t get the help they need,” Scott said about how the state cuts will affect those who need behavioral health services.

The Council of Community Services and CCH will work on finding grants, do fundraising and for other opportunities to determine what services could still be offered, said CCH CEO Colleen Heeter in the press release.

Scott, understanding that the cuts are coming from above, said CCH did all it could do to keep the group home open. The Greenhouse Group Home is the primary collaboration between CCH and the council, but the organizations hope to maintain a partnership of some kind going forward.

“CCH is invested in providing behavioral health services to those who need them in our community, especially due to the lasting effects that COVID-19 has had on mental health,” Heeter said in the press release. “CCH is committed to partnering with the CCS to find a solution and identify a program that could help serve those with severe mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness in our community.”

The combination of increased demand for services and fewer resources to provide them has left the council as a last resort for many who fell through the societal cracks this past year.

“I am absolutely heartbroken,” Scott said. “There is not, and I love all our other programs here, I really do, but this one was so comprehensive in helping people … there’s things we can do, but it’s like piecing things together the best we can.

“But the Greenhouse was cozy, it was a family, it was stable.”