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Billings bar turned bakery popular as ever; Stella’s bakes 120 pies at a time during holiday rush

Posted at 10:48 PM, Dec 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-23 12:19:50-05

BILLINGS — From the Bonanza Bar to a bakery, the space downstairs at Stella’s Kitchen & Bakery holds a lot of memories. These days it’s churning out hundreds of holiday pies, each with a slice of history.

“Most people that are in their late 50s or 60s will know the lounge down here, where the bakery is currently, was the Bonanza Lounge. It operated as Bonanza Lounge until 1993,” said Stella’s Kitchen & Bakery owner Steve Wahrlich.

In 2006, the fireplace was replaced by Stella's gigantic oven, which can hold 600 sugar cookies or 120 pies at a time.

“When they make the pie crust, they make 50 crusts at a time, and they are hand rolled out and everything,” said former Stella’s Kitchen & Bakery owner Stella Ziegler. “Everything is made by hand there.”

The rest fell, or was lifted, into place.

“She brought her equipment over, so the mixer right here was lowered by a forklift,” said Wahrlich.

The proven pie recipes are still on the menu, even after Stella and Ziggy Ziegler sold the restaurant to retire a few years ago.

“When we first started, the basic pies were apple, cherry, peach, blueberry, and of course pumpkin,” said Stella.

The list has grown a lot bigger since, keeping head chef and bakery supervisor Greg Shaffer and his team very busy.

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“We have 30 flavors,” said Shaffer. “The ones I like the most are our fruit pies: apple, blue, cherry, and peach, and they are all made with honey instead of sugars, Montana Made honey, so they are really nice.”

He's even added gluten-free to the menu.

“Those are all my recipes, every one of them I made from here,” said Shaffer as he gestures to his head.

His gluten-friendly recipes get rave reviews, just like Stella's staples that keep customers like Roy coming back twice a day every single day.

But before pie on Christmas morning comes Stella's famous cinnamon rolls, keeping Rick busy rolling, right through the holidays.

But it’s the memories in this place, many would say, that make the food here, that much better.

“I've got to give a lot of credence to Stella. She was self-made. To be in the restaurant business as long as she was and self-made is a testimony to her and her husband’s work ethic and desire to be successful,” said Wahrlich.”

“I’m very grateful to Billings and Zig was too. He loved it, so thank you Billings for all the great years,” said Stella.

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