Hartville steakhouse continues to pack the house nearly a decade on

Miners and Stockmen’s Steakhouse & Spirits in Hartville was built as a mercantile in 1905 and was soon turned into a bar. In 2009, the previous owners turned it into a restaurant. (Courtesy photo from Christine Harmon)

By Bob Wooley

Special to the Wyoming Truth

If you’ve ever driven from Cheyenne, Casper or even Fort Collins, Colorado, to Hartville — chances are you were looking for a steak. But not just any steak. Because the steakhouse in Hartville (the only restaurant in Hartville) is the historic Miners and Stockmen’s Steakhouse and Spirits.

And people come from far and wide to eat there.

Located in Eureka Canyon and established in 1884, Hartville, population 62, sits around 30 miles east of I-25 and 36 miles northwest of Torrington. To call the location “off the beaten path” is an understatement of Wyoming-sized proportions. It’s an unlikely place for people to flock to for a steak dinner. But flock they do.

Originally built as a mercantile in 1905, it was soon turned into a bar where miners from the neighboring village of Sunrise would congregate. Christine Harmon, who owns Miners and Stockmen’s with her husband, Scott, loves the area’s colorful history.  

In the days before Prohibition, “all of the miners would come to Hartville to unwind. It had bars and brothels and fights. It was rowdy,” she said, citing local lore and stories passed down by area residents. “Miners and Stockmen’s was just called Miners Bar back then. Then, during Prohibition, it was a ‘coffee house’ with a set of stairs that dropped to the basement, if you know what I mean.”

When Prohibition was repealed, the drinking re-took its rightful spot in the front of the house. And it remained a place to find a cold beer or a shot of something harder until 2009, when recent Wyoming arrivals — Scott’s sister and brother-in-law — bought the bar and turned it into a steakhouse. A few years later, realizing the restaurant business wasn’t for them, the couple closed it down and put it up for sale. 

The restaurant still hadn’t sold when Scott and Christine, visiting from the West Coast, fell in love with Wyoming and offered to take it off their hands.

“We tried to buy it from them, and at first, they said ‘No.’ Because it’s a bad idea to do business with family, and restaurants have a high failure rate,” Christine said. “They didn’t want to be responsible for us losing everything. But Scott said, ‘Well, we’re going to sell everything, and we’re going to come here anyway.’”

Scott and Christine Harmon, owners of Miners and Stockmen’s Steakhouse & Spirits in Hartville, had no experience in the restaurant business when they bought the establishment in 2013.  (Courtesy photo from Christine Harmon)

So the Harmons risked it all to move to a state they’d only visited once, buy a restaurant and live in a town of 62 people. 

Proceeds from the sale of their home and a small business loan allowed the Harmons to purchase the restaurant in 2013. Four months later, they re-opened, serving only hand-cut USDA Prime, aged steaks from Creekstone Farms (along with one shrimp entree). The rest of the small menu features scratch-made sides, salads and desserts. The bar is well-stocked with an impressive selection of wines and over 35 types of whiskey. 

‘How hard can it be?’

The duo prepared for their roles as restauranteurs in a decidedly uncharacteristic fashion: Scott was a high-rise mechanic, working on water pump systems and maintaining buildings; Christine ran her own financial planning business in Glendale, California.

“I figured, ‘How hard could it be? We’re only open 20 hours per week,’” Scott said.

He failed to realize how the additional hours spent cooking, prepping and doing everything else involved in owning a restaurant would add up. 

That’s not to say they were in the dark about cooking steak, an art Scott learned at age 7 from his grandfather and perfected over the next 45 years while grilling steak for friends and family.

As soon as they bought the restaurant, Scott, then 52, established himself as chief steak cook, while Christine, then 49, prepped meals, made salads, whipped up desserts and helped run the front of house. Christine said working together as a married couple took some adjustment at first, but they quickly realized they have different talents, which allows them to focus on different aspects of the business.

The most challenging part of running the restaurant in a small town, Scott said, was learning to plan ahead, because supplies can be hard to come by in such a rural area.

They couple hired eight employees who cook, bartend, serve food and wash dishes. It’s much-needed help, as the restaurant serves an average of 50 to 60 customers per night during the summer season. Those days can be long. Christine said they start early and finish late—sometimes putting in up to 14 hours per day.

Getting started

The Harmons arrived in Hartville on December 31, 2013. As they crossed into Wyoming, frigid temperatures got the better of their aging RV, and they were stranded for several days in a Walmart parking lot in Evanston while trying to find a diesel mechanic.

Pictured above is a steak dinner with scratch-made sides at Miners and Stockmen’s Steakhouse & Spirits in Hartville. (Courtesy photo from Christine Harmon)

But once that episode was behind them, Scott said it only took him about two minutes to adjust to life in Wyoming. Christine said it took time for her to adjust to the cold weather, but now she loves the change of seasons that she didn’t experience in California. And both love the quality of life and access to the outdoors that Wyoming offers.

Right in the beginning, fortune smiled on them in the form of Neil “the Flattop King” Williams, a local, retired Navy cook with food franchise ownership experience. Williams helped run the operation for its first 18 months, leaving once the restaurant was established.

Now, after staying afloat for nearly a decade, the Harmons are not surprised they made a success of the restaurant, and they attribute that to simple things: putting in hard work; serving good, fresh food; treating their staff right; and making their customers happy.

In the summer, 40% of their customers are tourists, with the other 60% being locals. The caveat is that they consider locals to be anyone within about a 200-mile radius.

The Harmons turned down an offer to start a second location, because doing so would mean giving up too much control over the things that have helped them succeed to this point.

“We love to see people happy and loving the food,” Christine said. “We’re just so grateful that people make the drive to come and see us and want to do whatever we can to keep them coming back.”

Want one?

If all of this steak talk has your mouth watering, here are a few things to know:

Reservations are advised in the summer, Christine said. But if you don’t have one, they’ll do their best to find you a table.

Business slows down by about 50% during winter — sometimes grinding to a halt when heavy snowfall makes roads impassable.

As for the steak, the bestseller is the $59 Miner’s Ribeye. It’s big —14 to 16 ounces.

So bring your appetite.

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