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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 7 - 13, 2003


Current and former members of the Kneadery family pose in front of the beloved café. Back row, Left to right: Rich Hamilton, Jane Reynolds, Jack Williams. Middle row: Jimmy Roberts, Gregorio Valencia, Jose Luis Chavez, Ernie Carter, Judy Milazzo, Julie Blinko, Laurie Jaeger, Micheel Martin Vicary with baby Challis Vicary and Stacy Arnett. Front: Gina Penn, Janine Byerly, "Buck" and Gail Severn with photo of Mike Martin. At least nine other "family" members, who still live in the valley, were absent from this photo. Express photo by Willy Cook

The Kneadery
changes hands

Two Ketchum institutions honor tradition

Express Staff Writer

There are two Ketchum restaurants—longstanding establishments with plenty of history—that typify the Ketchum experience: the Pioneer and the Kneadery. Now, through an emotional but smooth transition, Pioneer owner Duffy Witmer and his daughter Alyson Tierney have bought the Kneadery from the late Michael Martin’s family.

The stories of the two restaurateur families are linked by years of friendship, trust and admiration, Gail Severn, Martin’s widow, said.

When he moved from San Francisco in 1975, Martin bought the Kneadery six months after it had been built as a spec restaurant. Through all the remodels since then, it remained a family style restaurant with old barn wood and whimsical decorations. He not only raised his two children amidst the restaurant’s friendly chaos but also made it one of the original performance spaces in the valley.

Artists and performers honed their acts there, including the Vuarnettes, Mike Murphy, Chris Milspaugh, the "Whoop Show" and Nicky Night and the Whoops. And visual artists, like photographers Steve Snyder and Jack Williams, showed their work on the Kneadery’s walls. There have been many weddings, private parties and memorial services over the years as well.

"He was most proud of having served many generations, and when kids came in he’d say, ‘When you’re older come see me about a job,’" Severn said. She said they’d start young, bussing tables and helping in the kitchen. Many stayed on for years. One such woman, Janie Reynolds, began working at the Kneadery at age 14.

"I worked on and off between bike and ski racing," Reynolds said. "Michael was nice enough to let me support my athletic habits. He worked around our schedules and was very supportive of all the girls’ lives. We worked very hard for him."

Several of his former and current "girls" stood around in the Kneadery two days after the Witmers had closed on the restaurant. Lovingly, they shared stories and caught up, laughing when Reynolds mentioned Martin’s support.

"He was very strict and protective of his girls," she continued. "A father figure who took it on with a vengeance every day."

One of the aspects of the Witmers that appealed to the Martins, Severn and the Kneadery staff was the comparable approach to the business.

"They live here and raised their children here," Severn said. "There is a similarity in style, how they trust their employees and have the same commitment to the business here. They hire people who live here and work for them a long time.

"Our biggest asset is our employees," she said.

At the time of the sale, Severn issued bonus checks to each employee based on years served.

The sale appears to be for those involved the right match to bridge between the past and future. Ultimately, it had very little to do with money, Martin’s daughter, Michelle Vicary, said.

People called from around the country expressing interest in buying the business. "The Witmers knew Mike and respected him," Vicary said. "We chose someone who understands what the Kneadery is all about."

One aspect that speaks volumes about the genuine way Severn and the Martins have handled the transition is that they consulted the many regulars who come in every day. "We went to these people and said it’s important you support Duffy and continue Michael’s tradition. It’s really important to us."

The Pioneer has an even longer tradition and history in town. Filled with natural woods, mounted game and period firearms, Ernest Hemingway and his cronies hung out at this Main Street institution, which has been in operation since 1950.

"There will be a slightly different flavor but the bottom line to us is this is a family thing and we wanted a family to own it," Severn said. "Duffy said, ‘Why fix something that has a phenomenal reputation already.’"

"He said ‘This will always be your Dad’s restaurant,’" Vicary added.

Indeed, two of the Kneadery’s most visible aspects have always been the carved wood figure of "Buck" seated at one of the front tables and Mike Martin standing at the counter.

"Buck will stay. He’s an institution," Sheila Witmer said. And a photo of Martin right behind the counter, his visage and smile unmistakable will also remain.

"There will be evolution," Witmer admitted. "But we don’t want to change anything dramatically."

She said to expect minor changes in the menu, décor and table set-ups. The wait and kitchen staff will stay the same, with the addition of Tierney as the on-site owner/manager. They plan on staying open later during high seasons and by summer of 2004 have patio seating out front.

"We’re gonna keep it simple," Tierney said. "And preserve the spirit."

Witmer’s son Dillon has just graduated from the Hotel Restaurant Culinary Department at Santa Barbara City College. "Hopefully, Duffy will bring him in eventually," Witmer said.

Like the Martins the Witmers have a commitment to maintaining a family style restaurant business.

"We respect them," Witmer said. "They’ve been here so long and Mike was so loved in this community."

For every member of the expanded Martin and Witmer family the transition has admittedly been an emotional one. Martin died just over a year ago and his presence is still resolutely felt.

"It’s new and exciting but you never forget Michael," head waitress Gina Penn said. "Change is good. Not better, but good."


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