LaHood Park Steakhouse
The LaHood Park Steakhouse, seen in this photo prior to the fire in 2021, is known for Angus beef sourced from area ranches. Credit: Courtesy LaHood Park Steakhouse

CARDWELL — LaHood Park Steakhouse, an iconic restaurant in business here for decades, is making a comeback after a fire destroyed the building last year.

“I took a couple of months to think about it, and I decided to rebuild it from the ground up because it is more than just a place to eat,” said owner, “swamper” and bartender Phil Lalich. “It’s a rural community, and this is a place for ranchers, farmers and friends to meet.”

Toni Gray, a Clancy resident who often ate at the steakhouse with her family, welcomed the news. 

“The food was always really good, and it was more than just a place to eat, it was a place to meet your friends there, like meeting them at home,” Gray said.

Located just off Montana Highway 2, four miles from the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, the restaurant is the namesake of Shadan LaHood, a merchant pioneer and Lebanese immigrant who came to Montana in 1902. LaHood, who traveled frequently selling and canvassing dry goods, opened what was originally a general merchandise store and post office. A hotel, gas station and auto camp were added in the 1920s, and the restaurant opened in the 1950s. 

A fire in the early morning of Sept. 30, 2021, leveled the building near the Jefferson River. There were no injuries, and the cause of fire was never determined. A fire in 2001 destroyed the hotel portion of the business, according to the Whitehall Ledger.

Born and raised in Butte, Lalich, now 73, earned a degree in plant and soil science at Montana State College in 1974 and was a cattle rancher for 45 years before buying the steakhouse in 2017.

“Before this I was a rancher, and it was the best time of my life,” he said. 

Lalich bought the historic landmark steakhouse because he says it is a place for the community to come and enjoy a meal, even in such a remote location and even though, at the time, he had never run a cash register. 

“There are a lot of ranchers and farmers out there, so we want to give them a place to come to and spend time with their family and friends,” he said.

After the fire, Lalich took a few months off and contemplated where the road would lead next.

“I took a couple of months to think about it, and I decided to rebuild it from the ground up because it is more than just a place to eat. It’s a rural community, and this is a place for ranchers, farmers and friends to meet.”

steakhouse owner Phil Lalich

The fire had destroyed almost everything, from old photos of the restaurant to its original wood frames.

“The only thing that was salvaged are these 12×16 beams that are about 30 feet long,” Lalich  said. “I hired a sculptor and have decided to turn what was left of it before the fire into a big, wooden phoenix, which has many meanings, but the main idea is that the steakhouse will rise from the ashes, like a phoenix.”

Though cosmetic changes are in the works, the menu will remain mostly the same. The food is “Montana made” and the mainstay beef  will continue to be supplied by local ranches, Lalich said.

“We added a few more fish items and possibly some pasta dishes, and we insisted on keeping our chef,” Lalich said. “We serve genuine Angus beef, and it is and will remain high quality. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Lalich also owns a contracting business with his son, and the two spent the better part of a year rebuilding the steakhouse.

Lalich said he tentatively plans to heat up the grill once again for a grand reopening of the restaurant before the end of the year. 

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Christine Sullivan

Christine Sullivan is a journalist who lives in Helena. She studied print journalism and mass communications at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow’s College of Communication and in 2017 interned at The Times in London. Back in the states, she freelanced for The Everett Herald and the Journal of the San Juan Islands. In 2019, she moved from the Seattle area to the mountains of Montana for a gig at MTN’s KTVH, and, for a time, at ABC-FOX’s Montana Right Now as she finished her degree in political science and pre-law at Carroll College in 2022.