Popular family-run diner in downtown Somers celebrates 20th Anniversary

Story by Myers Reece | Photography by Sally Finneran
W hen Dennis Hatton came to Somers in the early 1980s, he knew he had found home. But the road home wasn’t a direct line from his native Baker in eastern Montana. It first passed through the U.S. Army and Los Angeles, with rocket cars and Clint Eastwood appearances along the way.

Hatton, the owner of Somers Bay Café, wrapped up his service in the Army in the late 1960s and moved to Los Angeles, where he bounced around restaurants in a variety of roles. There he befriended Gary Gabelich, the famed motorsport driver who set the world land speed record on Oct. 23, 1970 by achieving an average speed of 622.407 miles per hour over a flying mile in his Blue Flame rocket car. It was through Gabelich that Hatton fell into the same social circles as Eastwood and other celebrities.

Running with daredevils and Hollywood stars was thrilling enough to keep the young Hatton in Southern California through the decade, providing an arsenal of stories befitting a gregarious restaurateur. But it wasn’t enough to overcome his longing for the Big Sky country of his youth. Finally, the yearning proved too strong and he returned to Montana, swinging through the Flathead, where he had visited with family frequently as a boy. He decided to stay.

Somers Bay Café owner Dennis Hatton and his son, James.

Somers Bay Café owner Dennis Hatton and his son, James.

“I like it here because you’re just you,” Hatton said. “In L.A., everybody is trying to be other people.”

Hatton worked at an eatery in Bigfork and the now defunct Levengood’s Restaurant at the junction of U.S. Highways 82 and 93 before entering into the health care culinary business, including as head of dietary services at Pathways Treatment Center in Kalispell. After 10 years, a friend who owned the old State Bank of Somers building downtown suggested he buy the property and start his own restaurant, closer to his home on Breezy Point.

Somers didn’t quite have the restaurant scene of Los Angeles, but it was home, and Hatton saw an opportunity to carve out a livelihood in his little community. So he opened Somers Bay Café in spring 1997. It would prove to be the beginning of his most rewarding adventure yet, even if he started off uncertainly.

“I opened on April Fool’s Day,” he recalled recently. “I always said, ‘I’ll either fool everybody and make it, or make a fool of myself.”

Two decades later, it’s clear he didn’t make a fool of himself.

Diners enjoy a meal at the café.

Diners enjoy a meal at the café.

Somers Bay Café is celebrating its 20-year anniversary, having attracted a loyal local following over the years and a strong reputation among travelers, as evidenced by its consistently high ratings on online review sites. Making the occasion even sweeter is that Hatton is sharing it with his son, James, who joined the restaurant a few years ago after serving his own time in the military, including two tours with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, first as a rifle platoon commander in 2011 and then as a trainer and mentor for the Afghan National Army in 2012.

Hatton’s sister, Judith Seamster, moved from Paris to work at the restaurant, making the café a true family-run operation. Combine that with a crew that includes multiple longtime employees, and Somers Bay Café today is a well-oiled machine that gives Hatton not only pride but confidence to relinquish more duties as he ages.

“I know it’s in good hands with them,” he said.

James largely manages the kitchen these days. The military-to-culinary transition was seamless for him, as he had already learned the restaurant ropes by working there as a kid. Similarly, Dennis grew up in the business, as his father had operated a restaurant in Baker.

“That makes it a tradition,” James said.

Like his father, James points to the employees’ longevity, including seasonal servers who return each summer, as an encouraging sign.

“We think that’s important to build that kind of community here,” James said. “It tells you you’re doing something right when they like working for you.”

The Southwest Burger.

The Southwest Burger.

Open for breakfast and lunch, Somers Bay Café specializes in what might be called comfort food: classic dishes customized through family recipes, emphasizing local ingredients.

Breakfast includes skillets, omelets, scrambles, biscuits and gravy, and egg benedicts. The café also serves breakfast enchiladas with made-from-scratch sauce. For lunch, any sandwich is a good pick, with the option of ordering cracked-wheat, sunflower-seed bread baked in house. Wraps, burgers, salads and specialties such as fish tacos and a loaded roast beef sandwich round out the lunch offerings. Not a single item on the menu costs more than $10.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a late riser, or perhaps a fan of breakfast foods at all hours, you can order anything on the menu whenever the café is open, a reflection of the Hattons’ customer-first philosophy. That means you can dig into a burger while your dining companion munches on pancakes.

“Whatever people want, we make it,” James said. “They come all the way out here to eat with us. We don’t like to tell them no.”

Somers Bay Café is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call (406) 857-2660 or visit www.somersbay.com.