A new family-owned restaurant in Whitefish confronts a pandemic shortly after opening

Story by Justin Franz | Photography by Hunter D’Antuono

The Cawdrey family knew from the beginning that starting a restaurant would be no easy task.

Ever since the family found a space on Wisconsin Avenue in Whitefish back in 2017, the business has been slowly morphing: from an art gallery to an event space and then a cocktail bar. But over the winter of 2020, the family made the biggest change yet when it decided to turn Cypress Yard into a Mediterranean-focused restaurant.

They knew it was a risk — opening any restaurant is — but they were confident that it was the right direction for the business and their family. That bet seemed to pay off when, during a soft opening on Valentine’s Day weekend back in February, they were swarmed with twice as many guests as they were expecting. And emerging from the clamor of the packed restaurant that weekend were rave reviews about the service and food from Head Chef Jordan Glosser. The bet had paid off. The Cawdrey Family — specifically Steve, Nancy, their son Morgan and his wife Avis — knew they had struck gold.

Then there was a global pandemic.

Some might have thrown their hands in the air and given up, thinking that the perfect opportunity had been robbed of them by circumstances out of their control. But that’s not what happened, Morgan said. In fact, he said that Cypress Yard might be in a better position than even more established restaurants to handle the current crisis.

“We haven’t been in this business for long,” he said, “so in some ways, it’s easier for us to adjust to this new situation. More than anything, we’re just focusing on moving forward … But it’s been a whirlwind.”

The restaurant briefly had to let some staff go before being approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan that enabled them to bring employees back. In order to keep people busy, they started doing curbside pickup at the restaurant, an effort spearheaded by Glosser and Morgan. The pair took the restaurant’s menu and simplified it to things that were easily reheated or transported, like sandwiches. One of the items altered to better fit the curbside pickup model was the seared scallops, which were previously served as an in-house appetizer, but have now become the centerpiece of the restaurant’s popular citrus and scallop salad.

As Montana started to reopen, Cypress Yard was taking a number of precautions for those dining in, going above and beyond the state’s guidelines in some cases. All employees arriving for their shift are screened with a temperature check; front-of-house staff wear masks at all times and servers constantly wash their hands; tables have been spaced further apart than normal; and an online ordering system allows for contactless dining.

Morgan said the last few months have been nothing like they could have imagined and that it’s hard to know what the future might bring. For now, the family is doing the best they can to offer their community a break from a chaotic time.

“We really just want people to feel safe and to enjoy some great food,” he said.