FoodWorks reminds me of a co-op, with its friendly staff, freshly baked sourdough bread laid out on shelves, and produce that makes me think a local resident shared some lovely apples from their tree or extra radishes from their garden. It turns out that feeling isn’t too far off-base.
Six years ago, Lynette Larson and her husband, Don DeSmet, came to Livingston to begin running FoodWorks, a task they were well suited for.
Lynette grew up in Deer Lodge, nurtured by a mother who cooked meals for her 10 children on the modest salary Lynette’s father made as a phosphate miner. Don’s parents ran a grocery store in a small town in Minnesota. Before the move to Livingston, in Hawaii, Lynette managed a food co-op, with Don helping on his days off from running a UPS Store.
Lynette said one of the most important things that happened for the store was connecting with the Western Montana Growers Cooperative based in Missoula. This food distribution company picks up fresh food from small organic farms in Montana’s “banana belt” around the Bitterroot and Flathead valleys and brings it to Livingston.
“That means that we place an order on Friday, and they’re picking and gathering that order on Monday, and we get it Tuesday night,” Lynetter explained. Not only do FoodWorks customers benefit, but those small farmers get access to a store they couldn’t otherwise reach.
Produce regulations in Montana allow a store like FoodWorks to buy fresh vegetables and fruit from small growers and ordinary folks in the Livingston area. For example, right now, backyard pears and apples are abundant, and ones that haven’t been sprayed are sold at the store or made into applesauce to put into breads.
Michael Keys bakes the fabulous breads and bagels you see as you enter the store. Lynette said she was happy when, two years ago, she finally lured him away from the Hawaiian co-op Lynette had managed.
“I tell you 100 percent that our store would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for him and the dedication and passion that he has for good, well-fermented bread.”
And by the way, Lynette makes the cakes and delectable pies (try Montana huckleberry or Flathead cherry or both).
Until recently, Don made sure the hot food bar was supplied with good stuff. There are also cold sandwiches, salads, puddings, and ready-to-heat meals available. You can get freshly ground nut butters, too.
The holidays are a time for special abundance. Organic turkeys, rolls, and pies will be ready for the big day. “Our pie selection for Thanksgiving has to be all Montana. We roast the pumpkins for the pie and get local apples. We’ll also have the hot bar set up for Thanksgiving.”
For Christmas, a “Tiffany box” (so called because of its cheerful turquoise color) holds a selection of handmade cookies. You can see holiday goodies on the website: click on the Shop Online button at the top of any page and then click Deli and select “Xmas/New Years” from the drop-down list.
Lynette said you can reserve a turkey as early as October to be sure to get one. The turkeys had to be ordered in February, so they are limited. Nonetheless, Lynette said they try to have enough holiday food available to “grab and go” during the week preceding each holiday because they understand last-minute guests and events can complicate any planning.
On the FoodWorks website – which is easy to navigate and updated daily – you can learn more about the philosophy of its owners, find out what’s for sale, and make your special requests known.
“We believe everyone, every body , is on a different journey at different times, so our job really is to support all those individual journeys,” Lynette said. “I’m vegetarian, but Don is not. But he feels as passionately about making sure that I and our vegetarian customers have the good vegetables we need as about making sure the meat comes from good, organic sources. The same way we want our own food to be fueling and taste good, that’s what we want for our customers. If somebody has a food allergy and they need a cake for a birthday or something, we figure out how to get it done.”
Then she added with a laugh, “We don’t get out of the store that much. But our customers get to go out and see the world a little bit more, so we appreciate their requests for things we don’t have.”
412 E Park St