Today’s business section is the first of a three-part series on the economic outlook for Butte and southwest Montana.
This story begins with a riddle — What do a dentist, candymakers, a liquor store owner, peddlers of pork chops, and a manager of a well-established “club” have in common?
Need a hint? Well, they all share a common thread that many residents have as well and that thread is nearly impossible to break.
The bond that ties them together is their unwavering love for Butte, in good times and in bad. In short, the men and women featured here are some of Butte’s staunchest allies and all know how to run a business and do it well.
One such “ally” is Dr. Mike Bartoletti, a Butte dentist who will celebrate 40 years of practice this year.
“There’s no better place to live than Butte,” he said. “I don’t see why anyone would want to live anywhere else.”
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Bartoletti is passionate when he talks about his hometown and those who helped him along the way.
When he started out in 1982, he was, in his words, “low man on the totem pole.” From the get go, he received sound advice, particularly from a longtime Butte dentist, Dr. Fletcher Jones, who told the young dentist, “Pay your dues.”
He took that advice to heart as some of his first patients were Head Start students. Helping him during that time was a beloved physician, the late Dr. Dennis McCarthy.
“He did more for dentistry,” said Bartoletti, “and he was a pediatrician.”
The Butte dentist had any number of mentors, most importantly his own father, Dr. Edward “Doc” Bartoletti. While growing up, he watched how his dad interacted with his dental patients.
“I followed in the footsteps of giants,” said an appreciative Bartoletti, “and I have learned so much from them.”
He also remains appreciative of the immigrants who left their homelands to make Butte their home.
As he sees it, those immigrants were adventurers, all of whom took a chance and their descendants profited from their daring and bold spirits.
“The genetic pool here is filled with over-achievers,” he explained. “That’s why Butte has been so successful.”
The dental legacy continues with Bartoletti’s son Mario, who now works alongside his dad.
“It’s refreshing to have him around,” he said.
No plans are in the works for the Butte dentist to retire, though.
“I still have quite a few years left in me,” laughed Bartoletti. “Dentistry is one of the most respected professions and to be part of that is pretty humbling.”
Ron and Mary Gallardo feel they, too, are following in the footsteps of giants.
Experienced candymaker Bruce Shepperd opened Shepperd’s Candy 68 years ago and the store was later handed down to his daughter and son-in-law, Roberta and Dave Egedahl.
In 1988, Ron was a high school freshman when he got an after-school job at Shepperd’s. He explained that Dave Egedahl called up to Butte Central looking for a part-time worker.
“LaVerne Combo sent me down,” smiled Ron.
Little did that young teenager, who went on to become a teacher at Central, know that he and his wife Mary would later become the newest owners of the “sweetest shop in town.”
“Even as a teacher, I worked here after school,” said Ron.
The couple believes the store’s continued success is because, as Mary explained, “nothing has really changed since Bruce Shepperd started out all those years ago.”
Both people are in awe of the fact that some of their customers have been so since 1954.
“It’s an old-fashioned business that generations have patronized,” said Ron. “We are pleased to be following in their footsteps.”
As for Mary, she enjoys her daily interactions with her customers.
“Butte was so loyal to us during the pandemic,” she said. “I look forward to seeing them every day.”
Given the nature of their products, Shepperd’s customers always seem happy.
“Which is refreshing,” said Mary.
As for Ron, well he’s happiest in his workshop, stirring the kettles and making the candy. An apprentice for about six years, the former teacher now feels comfortable in his candymaker shoes.
“It’s become a lost art,” he said.
As for Mary, she readily admitted she had no clue what went into making candy until she came onboard six years ago.
“It’s amazing to see,” she said.
The McQueen Athletic Club may now be located at 3250 Hecla St., but its roots run deep in the not-so-forgotten neighborhood of McQueen. No one appreciates that more than its manager, Jerry Hogan.
“This place has a lot of history,” said Hogan. “I love it dearly here.”
Hogan, a retired teacher of 32 years who still coaches, has been at McQueen for 27 years. As his family grew, the long-time educator started moonlighting at the McQueen for some extra money.
“I started here when my wife was expecting our youngest,” he said, explaining his strong work ethic came from his mom, Biddie, who worked in the medical field.
Many years later, the Butte man, now the manager, continues working at a place that remains committed to Butte and has lived up to a motto started from its inception. He explained that the club was always about helping others, whether it be through local charities, sporting events or sponsoring teams, and that has not changed in more than 100 years.
“Kids’ sports are near and dear to me,” he said.
Hogan has also relished the numerous stories he has been told over the years as customers bellied up to the bar.
“I have learned a lot about the club and Butte from our older customers,” he said. “I love to listen.”
Hogan’s Mining City roots run deep but he is quick to point out that Anaconda also has a place in his heart as well. No surprise there as he taught in the Smelter City for 28 years.
A proud Butte native, Hogan is well aware of life’s ups and downs.
He was just two months old when his 33-year-old father, Jack Hogan Jr., was killed in an accident Nov. 18, 1961, at the Steward Mine. At present, he is undergoing cancer treatment.
Soon after his diagnosis in 2018, club members and customers hosted a Jerry Hogan Appreciation Day
“I never had a day like that,” said Hogan. “There is no better place than Butte, there really isn’t.”
Ed Orizotti was in the eighth grade when he got a job working with his dad, John, at Pork Chop John’s. The dad had purchased the already long-established business 53 years ago.
All these years later, Ed still heads to work at 8 W. Mercury St.
Eventually, John retired and Ed, along with his brother Charlie, took over and the brothers have no regrets.
“Our job was to operate it in a manner that would make dad proud,” said Ed. “It’s a successful business with a good reputation.”
Charlie, like his brother Ed, has been working at the sandwich shop for decades and has done just about everything — food preparation, cooking and delivering.
“Our family always worked while in high school and during the summers,” said Charlie. “It was fun.”
Pre-pandemic, Charlie thoroughly enjoyed hearing all the stories from long-time customers who sat on one of the 10 stools in the sandwich shop. Many of them, like Carl Hafer and Earl Britton, have passed on and he misses their shared stories of “old-time Butte.”
Sheila St. Pierre Yerkich was not a teen when she started working at the Uptown John’s. But with nearly 30 years under her belt, she has so many memories to share.
“I have met such wonderful people over the years,” said Sheila.
Like many Butte residents, her favorite holiday is St. Patrick’s Day and at Pork Chop John’s, Yerkich described it as “crazy busy” and always thankful for the experience.
“We see so many locals,” she explained. “It’s a fun, fun time.”
One of her favorite people was the “Original” Orizotti, John, who died Feb. 22, 2016. Yerkich, who works mostly in the office, would get visits from John from time to time.
“He always had a good story,” she said. “It was fun hearing them.”
The uptown shop is located near Butte High School, so over the years Yerkich has watched teens place their orders hundreds of times.
“The kids that are now all grown up — well, their own kids are coming in now,” laughed Sheila. “People love it because it’s such a tradition.”
Looking toward the future, the Orizotti men can’t help but feel some pride in their continued success on Mercury Street and at their additional shop at 2400 Harrison Ave., which opened in June 1975.
“We’re very thankful for Butte,” said Ed.
Not only is their “original pork chop sandwich” a favorite among their local customers, it’s also a favorite among expatriates across the country.
“It’s a Butte tradition,” grinned Ed.
Charlie wholeheartedly agreed.
“I’m proud that our sandwich is considered a Butte tradition,” he said.
According to Yerkich, besides providing pork chops to different companies across Butte and other parts of Montana, the product is shipped all across the United States.
“It’s a little taste of home,” she said.
Ed admitted running both businesses can be daunting at times, but rewarding as well.
“We’re just here doing our thing,” he said. “It’s been good.”
Thom Southwick started at the decades-old Uptown Butte business, Park Street Liquor, 16 years ago. Five years ago, he became its owner.
“I have been running this place for years,” said Southwick. “It’s ‘old hat’ now.”
Not surprising, Southwick feels right at home just where he is, on Park Street, a place he considers the heart of Uptown Butte.
“I have lived and worked on Park Street since 1988, and attended Tech as well,” explained Southwick. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
Along with two other employees, Southwick runs the liquor store six days a week.
He is thrilled to witness how much his neck of the woods, Uptown Butte, has improved through the years.
“It’s so great to see,” he said.
The liquor street owner has enjoyed the fact that he’s his own boss in this venture and describes his time at the store as extremely enjoyable.
“Spending time talking with customers — I like that,” he said.