Helena Steakhouse aims to bring southern classics to the table

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer 

HELENA – Amber Chandler calls the Helena Steakhouse her baby, and rightfully so. The idea of owning a restaurant where she can feature the recipes she learned as a small child from her grandmother has been brewing for years now.

At the restaurant’s soft opening on June 2, that’s when everything started to feel real to Chandler.

Her experience in the restaurant industry goes way back to having spent several years working for restaurants like Jim ‘N Nicks and Joe’s Italian. While she has a teaching degree, cooking was always her true calling thanks to her grandparents.

“I’ve always loved it,” she said. “That’s what she [my grandmother] taught me to do was cook.”

The building is the old Bywater Oyster House location across the street from Skull Girl Soaps. Chandler was looking to do a small meat and three style restaurant with take-home meals, and she was eyeing the building because of its peak location in Old Town Helena. When she approached the owner of the building about using the space, he gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“He told me my idea was great, but what Helena really needs is a steakhouse,” she said.

The owner offered to co-own the business to put up most of the money as long as the restaurant became a steakhouse. Chandler could still do all of her family’s recipes, but the main hook had to be a steakhouse. She admits she was hesitant at first.

“I was really on the fence, but then my son he goes, ‘Mom, what are you talking about? Your favorite meal is steak and potatoes,’” she said, laughing.

So, Chandler said yes, and she now co-owns the business with the owner of the building (who wishes to remain anonymous) and Bobby Lorino while Chandler has creative freedom of all the recipes.

“Everything is made from scratch,” she said. “So, I get to make the sides, and all the desserts are my great-grandmother’s recipes. I have a person who does cheesecakes, though, because I haven’t made cheesecake before.”

Items on the menu that Chandler gets particularly excited about include au gratin potatoes and broccoli casserole.

“I make a three cheese macaroni people really love,” she said. “We also do home-cut fries because when I worked at Jim ‘N Nicks that was a big thing. People like homemade. They want scratch made food with heart, and we want to give that to them. It’s a blessing to be able to do this right now.”

They also cut their own steaks and are offering the option to guests to pick their own cut of meat so they get exactly what they want. Chandler wants her patrons to understand that every cut of beef that is cooked and served is top quality USDA grade beef.

“Once people realize that we have food like that and it’s at a reasonable price, people will be really excited about it,” she said. “Our steaks are anywhere from $17 to $30. I just want to give the people what they want.”

Chandler and her partners wanted to create a space that was reminiscent of that old town vibe from the early 1900s, with exposed brick, a large glass wall behind the bar and a simple name: Helena Steakhouse.

The property has two floors that Chandler hopes to make full use of with views overlooking Old Town Helena. The walls are adorned with photos and newspaper clippings from historical moments in Helena’s past. She said she wants to celebrate the town and have the restaurant be a place where everyone in Helena feels safe and comforted by good food and good company.

“I would love to work with the local schools and maybe set up field trips where the kids come down here and we show them how to make bread or desserts,” she said. “I want to get to the point where I know your name and I know your kid’s name. Just to make this about the community.”

Chandler even has a motto she wants the restaurant to be associated with: “Family are friends, and friends are family. Time spent with family and friends is time well spent.”

They aren’t open during the day right now, but she hopes to down the line so she can incorporate the meat and three ideas on a lunch menu. They’re set to do a ribbon cutting with the HBA on Tuesday, July 12, and until then, Chandler wants people to come in and try her recipes and give honest feedback.

The Helena Steakhouse is located at 4085 Helena Road. The restaurant’s hours are 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 4-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.