Ben Harman is planning to bring more good food and drink to Minnesota Avenue.
Nearly four years after he and his wife, Krystal, opened the Fieldhouse restaurant at 2601 Minnesota Ave., Harman is preparing to convert the former Gym Jay space into the Annex Coffeehouse and Bakery.
The Annex will follow the model of the Fieldhouse, making everything from scratch using locally obtained ingredients. Harman plans to sell a variety of breads, sweets, savory items and a few sandwiches and salads prepared in the Fieldhouse kitchen. The coffee will come from Gary Theisen’s Revel Coffee Roasters.
Harman said he’s shooting for quality—“the best of whatever, absolutely”—rather than a profusion of offerings.
For some time, Harman had been thinking of opening a coffeehouse and bakery, so when Jay Marschall moved his fitness center out of the 1,500-square-foot space adjoining the Fieldhouse in November, Harman saw it as a “natural opportunity.”
The Annex will have two bakers—Molly Greenwood, a pastry chef who is already working as a chef in the Fieldhouse kitchen, and Jeff Birkholz-Wilkerson, who specializes in cakes.
The Annex will be producing some basic breads, including baguettes, brioche buns, ciabatta and focaccia. Greenwood already has her starter, which is bubbling and fermenting by the day in the kitchen.
Harman said a baker’s bread starter used to be his signature, virtually his identity, so important that some bakers kept their starters in leather pouches around their necks. Harman mentioned that tidbit with admiration in his voice, obviously feeling some kinship with people who are that passionate about food.
The bakery will also make croissants, Danishes, eclairs and cream-filled doughnuts. There won’t be a menu, Harman said, because there will always be new ingredients and fillings, with an emphasis on seasonal fruits.
In the way of savory food he’s thinking of having stuffed croissants and simple sandwiches, strata, savory scones and salads.
Harman said he originally tried to interest Theisen in roasting coffee at the Annex, but he’s happy with the alternative of being able to sell Theisen’s coffee there.
There will be space for about 30 patrons amid the display cases, the oven and preparation areas and a small business office for the Fieldhouse and Annex. Harman said he is cutting into the north wall, facing the railroad tracks, to add a big picture window.
In addition to retail and sit-down sales, the Annex will offer to-go packages tailored for business meetings and the like: disposable carafes of coffee and cups with a selection of baked goods.
He also expects to sell some of his baked goods to other restaurants, and he has already spoken to the downtown Good Earth Market about supplying it with some breads. The Fieldhouse and the Good Earth both sold baguettes and other products from the On the Rise Bread Co. in Bozeman, before it stopped delivering to Billings.
Serious coffee drinkers will be happy to learn that the Annex will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, with weekend hours tentatively set for 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The opening of the coffeehouse, which Harman hopes to have ready by sometime in April, comes amid a flurry of activity on Minnesota Avenue, for years a neglected stepchild to booming Montana Avenue on the north side of the tracks.
Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, which works to help families escape from homelessness, recently moved into the old Maple Leaf Club building, just south of the Fieldhouse, and Harman’s father, Steve Harman, recently moved his law office out of the building where the Fieldhouse is into a renovated Quonset hut a few doors west of there.
Russ Plath Law will soon move from the space next to Steve Harman’s old office into the Arcade building at Minnesota and South 27th Street, which Plath has purchased. And directly across 27th from the Arcade is Smiling Dog Records, which is having a grand opening this Saturday at 2 p.m.
Harman loves being part of the early-stage renaissance on Minnesota Avenue.
“The more activity that happens down here, the better for everyone,” he said.
Meanwhile, another coffeehouse is working toward opening at 2501 Montana Ave., across the tracks and a block east of the Fieldhouse, and a small café and coffeehouse is going in next to For the Funk of it at 14 S. 27th St., a stone’s throw from Smiling Dog Records.
The owners of MoAv Coffee House, which is renovating the former Carlin Martini Bar on Montana Avenue, had hoped to open in early January. The principals involved in it couldn’t be reached for comment, but the MoAv website has a countdown clock showing how far they are in each aspect of remodeling and construction.
Over at for the Funk of It, which moved out of the space now occupied by Smiling Dog Records, co-owner Tammy Fletcher said she is remodeling a small space on the south side of her store that will be a lunch café and coffee shop, and which probably will serve breakfast in the summer months. She said it could open within a couple of months.