Dixon Mercantile provides food, community hub
DIXON – In an open storefront fitted with a new coat of paint and a roaring woodstove, a crowd milled around to enjoy their breakfasts, chatting with strangers and waiting for seats. At times the line of customers waiting to order at the counter extended all the way to the door.
The Dixon Mercantile hosts musicians, travelers, hot-spring seekers, foodies and locals looking for a hearty meal each Sunday morning.
Last week, the crowd was so large that before 11:30 a.m. the restaurant ran out of one of their signature dishes — biscuits and bison gravy.
According to owner Laura Shannon, people have come from all over the Mission Valley and Missoula to eat at the restaurant. Customers often work a stop at the Mercantile into a trip to Hot Springs, the Bison Range or Glacier National Park.
Shannon said as the word spreads about the restaurant, a busy Sunday is becoming the norm. The restaurant opened last winter and is only open for Sunday brunch. She expects fewer customers as snow obscures the winding road to Dixon.
The genesis of a business
Initially, Shannon was looking for land to farm in the Mission Valley when she found the Mercantile for sale on Craigslist. She decided to invest in the building as a place to sell her baked goods instead.
“There was the opportunity for me to get this building, and we’re just kind of growing it step- by-step and seeing what it turns into,” she said.
Shannon learned to bake as a child, from her mother. She started baking seriously in 2018 when she was working on a farm in St. Ignatius. Then she started to see making bread and confections as a skill she could use to make a living.
She makes sourdough breads, pies and cakes from scratch. Initially, Shannon planned to just sell baked goods, but then, her friend Alyssa Kennamer, who also works as a sausage maker, needed a place to live for the winter. Now, Kennamer leads the kitchen and helps develops the brunch menu in exchange for rent in a room in the building.
Bre Ward is the other cook, and Shannon’s boyfriend Cooper Malin handles the graphic design for the business and maintenance on the building. The restaurant is also staffed by three local youth, who Shannon met when they came to eat at the Mercantile.
A carefully constructed menu
Much of the food served at the Mercantile comes from farms in the area and this includes meat from Lower Crossing Farm in St. Ignatius and food that community members harvest nearby.
“People will knock on our door to sell us foraged mushrooms or apples from their apple trees,” Shannon said. She likes buying ingredients from people in the community who eat at the restaurant. When the farmer who provides the mercantile with bison meat brought a box of bison bones to the restaurant, they added bone broth to the menu.
Patrick Schuler of Missoula made a special trip to Dixon for brunch with his family. He said the first time he went to the Mercantile was because a friend recommended it. After that meal, he went to the Bison Range. This time though, the food alone drew him to the restaurant.
“We thought it was so good we had to come back,” he said.
Shannon said the food’s flavor comes from a combination of high-quality ingredients and creative recipe development. The menu changes quarterly, and everything is made from scratch. It includes classics like biscuits and gravy and items for more adventurous eaters like spicy pupusas and cornbread waffles with jalapeño jelly. There’s a special each week.
Shannon said she and Kennamer come up with the menu for each week together, using a wide variety of inspiration. “We use Alyssa’s family recipes and also pull from different international tastes and spices and flavors,” she said.
The legacy of the Dixon Mercantile
Shannon is taking advantage of all the old building has to offer. Guests can rent a loft room with a clawfoot tub in the building through Airbnb. She rents the restaurant space out to the community for events on days she’s not open. Shannon, Malin and their infant son Arlo live in the building as well.
The Mercantile was built in 1912 and holds a lot of history in the town. Shannon enjoys hearing from people who were part of the history of the mercantile. Some remember it in its earlier iterations as a general store.
Shannon thinks it’s important for out-of-town visitors to understand the place where the mercantile is located. Soon customers will be able to peruse a history of the building and a detailed map of the region.
On the third Thursday of each month, the mercantile hosts vinyl nights. Missoula DJ Jesse Brenneman plays his vinyl collection, and attendees dance and play board games. Attendees can pay $10 to purchase soup and bread Shannon makes, or they can bring a dish to pass in exchange for their share of soup. Those whose strength is clean up can scrub dishes to earn their dinner.
At the November 21 vinyl night, guests will have the chance to sample and provide feedback on the mercantile’s potential Thanksgiving pie offerings.
For now, the mercantile is open only a few days a month. Shannon hopes to increase her hours next summer. She’s excited to see how she and the community come to use the space. She wants the mercantile to live up to its title.
“I chose a name as generic as possible to leave the opportunity for people to use the space any way they wanted to since I didn’t have a clear plan,” she said. “It’s this open space that people should use.”