GREYCLIFF — "There’s nothing like discovering a jewel in the making - finding a building that’s not in so great of shape, and then beginning to dream and imagine what that could be turned back into."
Matthew Brandstadt, born on the Western slope of Colorado, knew pretty early in life exactly what he wanted to do.
"I liked the idea of learning a trade," he said. "Shortly after graduating high school, I went right into the restoration company that I’ve been with for nearly 20 years."
That company is Heritage Restorations. If you’ve ever watched HGTV, you’ve likely heard of them - they are Chip and Joanna Gaines’ personal builder - and Brandstadt is now one of their partners. He’s the reason they have a headquarters in Sweet Grass County.
"After having traveled the U.S. and the World, I have to say that Big Timber is my favorite place in the world to be," Brandstadt said. "It very much has been able to hold on to the traditional American feel, and it's a very special place with a lot of great people."
The company’s mission is simple: scour the continent for historic timber frame barns that they can return to past glory.
"We have sorted through 25,000-30,000 barns, and we have purchased around 450 frames."
Most of the frames are turned into client homes and event centers, but Brandstadt had something different in mind on a piece of property he and his family had bought in tiny Greycliff.
"We had been looking for a timber frame that could potentially be turned into a historic gristmill," Brandstadt said. "So we found this timber frame in upstate New York in a small town called Cobleskill, and found out that it was pre-Revolutionary war. We know it was built between 1740-60. And we thought, 'How can you pass this building up?'"
The nearly 300-year-old traditional dutch barn was disassembled and trucked over 2,000 miles to the Big Timber facility, but that was just part of Brandstadt’s vision.
"As far as we know, it's all original to the mill," said Elisha Sherman. "There's markings on the wood that indicate it was built in 1874."
Sherman is the man in charge of Montana’s newest flour mill - both the business' general manager and the miller.
"I studied quite a bit, but one of my first jobs was working at a gristmill similar to this," Sherman said with a smile after being asked if that was the resumé line that got him the job.
Born in Texas, Sherman found his passion early on as well - cooking. Five years ago, a friend opened a bakery in Big Timber and convinced Sherman to move north. And just as he was getting ready to leave for his next adventure, Brandstadt made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
"It was exciting," Sherman said. "I love working with the older equipment, and there's a lot of craft to it I think."
The two worked together for 18 months before finally opening the doors in May. Most are surprised to learn the Greycliff Mill is for all intents and purposes the world’s coolest coffee shop.
"Bagel sandwiches, pastries, getting the espresso dialed in, and then greeting guests as they come in," Sherman said of a typical day. "A common expression is, ‘Oh wow!’ when they walk through the door. It's an impressive building from the road, but coming in, there's a lot of character in here and I think people are pleasantly surprised."
And yet, there’s still more than meets the eye.
"Part of the vision of the mill was also to serve a really classic, nice dinner," Brandstadt said.
"That’s really been one of my passions since I started this," Sherman said, "finding something you can grow within a few miles, and then saying, 'What can I produce that would be a really gourmet meal?'"
"The No. 1 factor that we’re considering in everything right now is how to make the journey as short as possible from the field to the plate," Brandstadt added.
July 17 marked Greycliff Mill’s third dinner offering since opening in May. Sherman created an Italian menu this time, with more than half the items sourced locally.
"We've grown all the wheat that we're serving out of here. We have a local making the bagels. We have a local making all the ice cream for the shakes," Brandstadt said, "so while we’re not 100% there, we see it to be very much within reach within a year where we could be producing 90%."
Brandstadt has big aspirations for the property. He talks about cider pressings; there’s an apiary on site about ready to produce honey; there are even plans for three AirBnB’s - all designed to make the Greycliff Mill an experience unlike any other.
"That is what we wanted to create - a destination for people to come to enjoy an evening or a day," Sherman said.
"The building we’ve been able to construct has exceeded my expectations," Brandstadt added. "After finding the 1874 mill in South Carolina and then coming into the general ambience of the frame, if I may say in my humble opinion, it’s quite spectacular."
You can find the Greycliff Mill just east of Big Timber, easily visible from I-90. To learn more - including how to make reservations for next Saturday’s Farm to Table dinner, visit their website.