The breakdown of a train in Helena in 1912 inadvertently led to what is now Jorgenson’s Restaurant & Lounge, Inn & Suites a longtime fixture in the capital city.
The story of Jorgenson’s began when Fred Jorgenson, a young Danish immigrant, was traveling through Montana on his way to California. The train broke down in Helena and by the time it was repaired several days later, Jorgenson had decided not to continue and to make his home in Helena instead.
He found work as a cook for Mount Saint Charles College, a Catholic college in Helena, which was the forerunner of today’s Carroll College. After seven years at the college, Jorgenson moved over to Helena’s Montana Club, the oldest private dining establishment in the state. He remained with Montana Club from 1919 to 1950, when he retired to enjoy a life of fishing.
But retirement didn’t appeal to Fred Jorgenson and in 1951 he, his daughter Lucille and her husband Cal Rush, his son Chuck and his wife Jean, another daughter Ruth and her husband Don Larson, opened Jorgenson’s Grocery, Catering and Locker Plant in downtown Helena.
Begun with “two frying pans and a stove,” according to Chuck Jorgenson, the catering business was a successful one. By the time they closed out that portion of the enterprise, they were able to handle as many as 1,500 people at a time. They had all the necessary table service, tables and chairs, and they catered – with hot food- as far away as 200 miles.
Jorgenson’s catering was popular for farm and ranch auctions, weddings and conventions. Jorgenson’s was also a Helena tradition for Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys, often preparing more than 200 turkeys for a holiday, complete with dressing and a pot of gravy. At the same time, the Jorgenson family also operated the kitchen at Helena’s Frontier Town, a replica western village located 15 miles west of the city.
After leaving Frontier Town in 1957 and selling the catering business in 1958, the Jorgenson family decided to build their own restaurant. Jorgenson’s Restaurant was built adjacent to a 37 unit motel near the state capitol in 1958. The motel was later purchased by the Jorgenson family and was expanded into a 102- room complex.
Jorgenson’s became a landmark in Helena, the convenience and quality of the restaurant and lounge, not only drew the family trade, but because of its proximity to the capitol , many businessmen, state officials, legislators & Lobbyists found Jorgenson’s their “in town” home.
After 3 decades, the Jorgenson family sold their business, but the new owners convinced the 3rd generation, Lucille’s daughter Barbara Morris & her husband Steve, and later joined by her other daughter Bonnie Andrew, to lease the restaurant.
Today the restaurant is still operated by the Jorgenson family, joined by the 4th generation, with the same emphasis on serving the public and preparing fresh food in the kitchen.
Jorgenson’s attribute their success to the fact that it always was a family business and still is.