Sisters Ashley and Katie Klaus saw an obvious gap in Billings’ food scene, and for 10 months, were able to provide customers a different experience.
However, Billings’ only all-vegan restaurant and kombucha taproom, the Grotto, closed Friday after less than a year of operation.
Ashley Klaus said the business isn’t closing its doors because of a lack of customer support, but rather an ultimatum set by their investor. Klaus preferred to keep their investor’s name private.
“We had investors and they made an executive decision that they didn’t think this was the right place or time for this business,” Ashley Klaus said. “Our personal feelings about it is that it is the right place and time for the business, but again, we don’t call the shots, so we’re complying.”
The investor had their own personal reasons for the decision, and they’re on amicable terms, she said.
Businesses often lose money during their first few years of operation due to initial costs, but Klaus was confident in the business.
“Ten months is a short amount of time and usually within your first year of business you lose money and we definitely fell into that category, but we were rapidly picking up,” Klaus said. “By the second year of business we would have been profitable.”
The restaurant’s menu, which was developed by the owners, was comprised of vegan, gluten-free, and non-genetically modified dishes and 15 different flavors of Hawaiian kombucha on tap.
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The sisters both have celiac disease and other food allergies that restricts what they can eat and where they can dine. Having a restaurant like The Grotto in Billings is necessary for others like them, Klaus said.
“Several (customers) told us specifically, pretty much verbatim, that this is the only place they could go out to eat, if they didn’t cook at home,” Klaus said.
For the future, the sisters plan to open a similar restaurant once enough funds are raised, but with intentions to come back more prepared to serve the growing niche. They may even start preparations as soon as January, Klaus said.
The new business would be completely different, but would still revolve around vegan food and a kombucha taproom. They’d develop a more curated menu and business plan now that they have more experience.
The restaurant operated in the Sawyer Building downtown on Montana Avenue, and the Klauses are hoping to rent the same space through Griffin Development. Finding a space to rent was initially very difficult, since many renters didn’t see value in the sisters’ idea.
But during the previous year, Klaus said that she has faith in Billings.
“There’s a space out there and there’s a need for it and there’s a demand,” Klaus said. “It’s a space that’s terribly underserved and we’d like to come back and serve it again in the future.”