Saying Goodbye to Cafe Regis

Our first dance at our wedding – held at Cafe Regis

Yesterday, one of my closest and dearest friends, Martha Young, stepped down from running her own restaurant, Cafe Regis. She turned the reins of the restaurant over to the other owner of the cafe, Gary Ferguson, who will run it interim until they find a third party buyer to sell to.

In one way or another, I’ve worked under Martha’s careful care and loving direction for the past fourteen years.

We used to joke that I’ve quit the Cafe as many times as I’ve quit college. But I always came back after taking breaks. I’ve come back because the Cafe, and Martha, were formative in my development as an adult as a member of this community. I’ve come back because I truly love Cafe Regis; and because I have the utmost respect for Martha as a staunch friend, brilliant businesswoman, and incredible cook.

The magic of Cafe Regis – which anyone who has gone there has experienced – is entirely due to Martha; although she is too humble to admit it. Her heart and soul resonate in every part of the cafe – the colors of paint on the walls, the pots and pans in the kitchen, the menus, the layout of the tables, the very ambient energy of the cafe, were all handcrafted and maintained by Martha. Martha and Cafe Regis are inseparable.

Martha would tell you that her vision would not be possible without her dedicated employees, such as myself. She forgets, when she says this, that all of us would not have been able to contribute to the dream that is Cafe Regis without her unyielding but loving direction.

She’s been engaged in a legal dispute with the other owner of the Cafe, Gary Ferguson, for the last two years – a dispute that finally came to a head and placed them in front of a judge yesterday.

Ferguson filed for a court ordered dissolution of the Cafe a few years ago. In layman’s terms, this means that if he had prevailed in court, the judge could have ordered the restaurant shut down immediately – putting many employees out of work suddenly as well as shocking the community with the loss of a beloved institution.

We had to get married inside at the Cafe. It rained/sleeted/snowed on our wedding day.

He filed papers against Martha in part because he was unwilling to live up to a promise he made when they bought the property together. He made a promise to cover the monetary shortfalls of the property from his own personal funds – yet when the time came to do just that, he wanted out of his commitment.  Dispute arose when Martha attempted to hold him to his word. The dispute became muddled and emotional and grew out of control. Martha and Gary had first a friendship, then a relationship, before all of this went down.

She was entirely prepared to go to trial over the dispute and had painfully built a very solid case built against her opponent, her friend of twenty-five years – a man who inherited his share of the cafe when his wife, Martha’s business partner, passed away unexpectedly.
I’ve stood by Martha since the Cafe’s inception. I’ve observed the entirety of this dispute from the inside. If she is guilty of any mistakes,  it’s of assuming her longtime friend and inherited business partner was a person of character.

Yesterday before the trial, in the judge’s chambers, the judge informed both sides that, based on the information he had, he would likely rule that the cafe would be forced to either shut down or sell to a third party.

Taking her lawyers advice, my friend took a settlement that selflessly protected the jobs of

Every day we visited the Cafe, Monster played with these random figures that customers had left.

her employees for the next 18 months – at the expense of her livelihood and vision.  She resigned, Gary is managing the cafe for the first time, and they have agreed to put the Cafe up for sale.

I worked with Martha for 14 years. In that time the Cafe became a part of my life – a feeling that was cultivated and developed by the incredible community of Red Lodge -a community that was brought together by the Cafe.

I learned how to wash dishes at the Cafe.

I learned how to prep food at the Cafe.

I learned how to cook at the Cafe.

I learned how to bus tables at the Cafe.

I learned how to serve tables at the Cafe.

I learned how to handle money and balance tills at the Cafe.

I learned how to contract with vendors for food orders at the Cafe.

I learned how to cater weddings at the Cafe.

But there’s more than that.

I learned how to problem solve at the Cafe.

I learned how to talk to anyone about anything at the Cafe.

I learned how to manage a business at the Cafe.

I learned how to make things right when we screwed up at the Cafe.

Be there’s more than that.

I met Ashley at the Cafe.

I was supported in my cancer treatment at the Cafe.

I made a community for Monster at the Cafe.

I married Ashley at the Cafe.

I laughed at the Cafe.

I cried at the Cafe.

And in every single case, Martha was there. Just Martha. Now Martha is no longer there. She sacrificed her place in the Cafe so her employees wouldn’t be jobless.

Without Martha, the Cafe is empty. And so, it is with great sorrow and a heavy heart, that I need to say goodbye to Cafe Regis. This restaurant was part of my life – beyond a business, beyond a building. The Cafe shaped me and challenged me to grow.  The Cafe was there for me in so many hard times in my life. The Cafe celebrated with me in my joyful times of life.

And it was all due to Martha.

Goodbye Cafe Regis,

I’ll always love you

Levi Novakovich

The memory of this cafe will always be a part of our life.





13 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Cafe Regis

  1. Your beautiful essay expresses how so many of us feel, Levi. We come back to Red Lodge but we can’t go back to Regis Cafe – not after what has happened. And it needn’t have been that way.
    There is one consolation – met many wonderful people there, including Martha, and made friends with you – and for that we can be grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Levi, Thank you for your input. Things not known. Very sad how human beings can be so hurtful to one another. Brian and Sharon


  3. Martha created the Regis with outstanding effort.
    .It is a shame that bumbling bamboozling avarice has tricked her out of her living growing cafe.


  4. We are stunned & so distressed about this….for Martha, for the community, for us. We have been married for 48 years & were planning our 50th anniversary dinner there….but without Martha, forget about it. MArtha, thank you for your talent, your hard work & dedication to quality….the blessing you are to all who know & love you. You will be ok.. Lynn&Don Findon


  5. I echo all the comments made about Martha. The Cafe Regis catered our wedding and Martha was a beyond gracious partner who helped me being my vision wedding vision to a a reality. My heart goes out to Martha!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I will miss this cafe. Yes, the staff and the food they offered created the ambiance of this cafe that now will be lost. How sad, a loss for Red Lodge and the surrounding area.


  7. I am sad to hear all this news. Regis has been the favorite spot for so many of us. Maybe through a group fundraising effort, enough capital could be raised for Martha to buy Gary out and step back into owning and running the cafe. Or perhaps someone would partner with Martha and buy the cafe back.
    I’m buying my lottery ticket!


  8. Levi, this is beautifully written. I feel your pain and am sorry for your loss. But I do want to share the different way that I have experienced this story.

    From the beginning, the café was the product of three partners: Martha, Jane Ferguson, and Sharon Phipps. It was also dependent on a committee of seven, led by Gary Ferguson and Anne Rood, who purchased the building in order to subsidize the restaurant for the benefit of the community.

    Over the years, and with Jane’s tragic death, basically the restaurant fell solely to Martha and the subsidy solely to Gary. They disagreed about the structure and content of that subsidy, but more importantly the rest of us in the community — by which I mean me as a customer more than you as an employee — failed to step up and supply that subsidy. We left it to them.

    Yesterday they both took brave steps: agreeing to a settlement by which the Regis can continue as an institution. We don’t know what it will look like in 18 months, but I can tell you that my meal there this morning was every bit as good as always. That’s a credit to not only the way Martha shaped the restaurant’s values, but also the way its many employees, including yourself, have created an institution that can carry those values forward.

    I respect your relationship with Martha, and how you may not want to revisit this place without her. But for me, I hope to honor the legacy of her, and you, and many others, by continuing to support this place at the heart of Red Lodge.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and allowing me to share mine.

    Liked by 1 person

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