Sunday, May 09, 2021
34.0°F

Connie’s new owners pay tribute to cafe’s long history

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | May 2, 2021 1:00 AM

▶️ Listen to this article now.

SANDPOINT — When Lars Hall and Chris Ankney first started shopping for a restaurant in late 2019, they weren’t planning to operate one of Sandpoint’s oldest and most beloved cafes.

The two had been friends for years, having met through outdoor groups after both recently moved to the area.

Their journey to owning Connie’s began when Ankney told Hall he wanted to start a brick oven pizza restaurant in Sandpoint.

“I piped up, if you're going to do that, I want to ride that train with you,” Hall said. “So at that point, we put the wheels in motion.”

Hall, who spent the past 20 years working in the outdoor industry, was ready for a change, he said.

“The last 10 of those years, I helped start and run a company called Breakwater Expeditions and we did one- to two-week-long backcountry wilderness trips,” Hall said. “I reached a point where I needed to transition, I needed to change, I needed a new chapter in my life.”

It wasn’t long after they began looking that David and Penny Libby put Connie’s up for sale. Hall and Ankney began discussions with the Libbys, and learned more about the long history of the cafe.

“It kind of flipped to, ‘Oh, man, be part of Sandpoint’s history. This restaurant has been around since 1955,” Ankney said. “David Libby did a tremendous job of establishing a good solid system in place with a good solid core team of employees.”

Libby, who’s owned or opened over 20 restaurants, has never had one that failed, Ankney said. That served as inspiration for him and Hall, who said they want to keep what locals love about Connie’s.

Some customers have been coming to Connie’s since it opened in the 1950s, Hall said, including some regulars so consistent the staff will have their places set when they walk in.

“You can set your clock to them,” Hall said. “They just talk shop in the morning there for about a half hour, 45 minutes or so.”

Some of those regulars went to high school together, Ankney said. On Libby’s last day, he opened the restaurant just for them. As the restaurant switched ownership, the staff have continued to set those mugs out for the regulars.

It’s reflective of what the two new owners are trying to do with the restaurant as a whole, they said.

“He left some big shoes to fill. We are trying our best to fill those shoes with this transition that we have,” Hall said.

Hall and Ankney will be keeping the same menu, they said, with the potential to add daily specials. They’ve also expanded their drink menu thanks to longtime bartender Lyndsy Walson, and are working to spruce up the lounge area in the back.

Some of those new drinks include variations on Bloody Marys with homemade pickles, bringing back mojitos and expanding the selection of different types of Moscow Mules. She also plans to offer Mimosa flights and martinis, and bring back Bellinis, Walson said.

“Basically, we're just stepping up and being able to offer people more, so when they look at us and say, ‘Do you have a drink menu?’ and we have not before, now we can say, ‘Yes, we do.’”

While the idea of one day offering pizza hasn’t died, for now Hall and Ankney are focused on learning the ropes for Connie’s and keeping up with the service their customers expect.

Hall runs the day-to-day operations as the general manager, he said. Ankney currently works part-time managing bookkeeping, while also working as one of the owners for the young adult transition program Echo Springs out of Bonners Ferry.

A large part of their success so far, Hall said, is thanks to the staff, many of whom have been there for years, such as Walson or longtime cook David Truleson.

As they move forward, Walson said, they’ll also need more people — and not just for seasonal work.

“It's fantastic year-round employment,” she said. “There's so much in Sandpoint that's seasonal, right? And we get busier in the summer, but we are busy year-round.”

Although the new restaurant has presented many challenges, the owners say they’re having fun with it.

“Every day's a new day — a new day with new challenges,” Hall said. “I have adapted the saying, ‘Adapt, improvise and overcome.’ And it's just something that is [part of] the restaurant business, we’re finding out. Something will always pop up here and there and, and you just got to work with it and make it better.”

Rachel Sun can be reached at rsun@bonnercountydailybee.com and followed on Twitter @RachelDailyBee.