A late-1800s advertisement for the Missoula Mercantile promised: “Anything can be purchased here, from a side of bacon to a prairie schooner.”
Now, in the historic pharmacy of the Mercantile (the only remaining piece of the original building), a quick and healthy meal can be purchased, from a smoked salmon summer salad to a cup of bone broth.
Welcome to the Basal restaurant, recently opened by Missoula’s Julie and Taylor Clayton.
“We wanted to be in an area where people work, shop and visit, and provide them with quick, healthy options, serving whole foods and unprocessed foods while minimizing processed foods and sugar,” said Taylor.
“We wanted to have our own, unique contribution to the neighborhood,” said Julie. “Providing people with healthy, sustainable options that help them feel better.”
The new restaurant’s location in the old pharmacy building is fitting, she said, “because good food can be like medicine.”
As part of an agreement between the city of Missoula and the developer of the new Residence Inn Marriott, the historic pharmacy was left intact when the rest of the Mercantile building was dismantled. (Nearly 80 percent of the old building was salvaged and recycled by Home Resource of Missoula.)
The Mercantile was built in various stages, beginning in 1877, and was Missoula’s go-to shopping destination well into the 1920s, selling everything from groceries and furniture to wagons and farm equipment. In 1959, it became Allied Department Stores. In 1978, the Bon Marche. In 2003, it became Bon-Macy’s, changed a few years later to Macy’s.
Macy’s closed in 2010 and the building remained vacant for seven years because of issues with asbestos and a lack of structural integrity.
“We take the history very seriously,” said Taylor.
On the outside of the north wall, in the alley, is an old, faded inscription for the pharmacy and drugstore. Taylor and Julie hope to have it repainted and restored.
They left the large, inside south wall of the original brick open to highlight and expose the history.
“We went with a simple aesthetic,” he said. “To emphasize the basic ingredients of space as well as food.”
The name itself derives from the word “base.”
“We were sitting around brainstorming names,” Taylor said, “thinking about providing basic nutrition … a baseline … a fundamental notion rising from the base.”
“And then it hit us, Basal!” added Julie.
Taylor grew up in Bigfork. Julie is from Cleveland, Ohio. They met in Boulder, Colorado, where they both worked in the food business. “We’ve both worked many years for restaurants, in just about every position,” Julie said, “and we’ve both worked as general managers for restaurants.”
They started dreaming about opening their own place about five years ago.
Their menu includes breakfast burritos, yogurt, smoothies, espresso, and a variety of salads, including chorizo and potato salad, summer caprese salad, steak salad and a rainbow salad that includes beets, spinach, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, carrots and an herb-balsamic vinaigrette. The salad bar includes a variety of options for people to create their own salads.
Perhaps their most unique item is a sipping broth, made from the bones of locally raised, grass-fed cattle.
“It includes onions, carrots, celery, ginger, tomato stock and other vegetables,” Taylor said. “We let it simmer for about 12 hours. It’s got a lot of complex flavors and is pretty nutritious.”
The sipping broth is $7.50 for a 12-ounce serving, $9.50 for 16-ounce. Regular and large salads range in price from $7 to $17, with options to add chicken, steak, chorizo, salmon, avocado or other ingredients. Various coffee, tea and other drinks cost $1.50 for sparkling water up to $4.50 for a large caffe latte.
For their first few weeks, they have been serving breakfast and lunch. This week, they plan to start serving dinner. They provide quick, convenient counter service with grab-and-go items as well as sit-down dining.
“We love Missoula, and we love downtown,” said Julie. “We’re excited to be here and welcome Missoula back into this historic space.”