HELENA — Originating in Helena in the mid-1980s, now with three locations across the Treasure State, the Staggering Ox has been serving unique sandwiches for 40 years and counting.
On October 7, 1983, Keith Clevenger went all in on his dream and opened the doors to his first restaurant in Helena; calling it the Staggering Ox.
"I knew a sandwich place in Montana here that put out these great big sandwiches, and I ate quite a few of them when I was in school, and I thought, well... that'd be a fun thing to do," said Clevenger President of Staggering Ox Inc.
When reminiscing about all the years the Ox has been up since first opening the restaurant, Clevenger, mentioned that more than grateful to have reached the 40-year milestone.
"I think it's pretty amazing that we've made it this long. It took a long time in the beginning, to get to get the folks in Helena, to understand what we had to offer, and so, yeah, it's been a great ride," said Clevenger.
Over the past four decades, the Ox has seen their fair share of hurdles.
A key example is the amount of damage they took from the train explosion of 1989, breaking the windows of the Ox, and causing other damage to the restaurant.
"After the big train wreck back in 89 or whatever it was, we lost every plant in this place because all the windows broke and honestly, the town came and gave us plants by the dozens," said Clevenger.
The most recent hurdle they overcame, and are still recovering from, is the effects of the COVID pandemic. Through all of their times in need, the community has always been there to support them.
"Our customers were super supportive. They understood what everybody was going through," said Clevenger.
With everything the community has given them over the years, Clevenger and the Ox always remember to give back.
"We donate a lot of food to various organizations around town who want to have some door prizes or whatnot. I don't know. We probably give away a couple thousand sandwiches a year," said Clevenger.
Over the years, The Staggering Ox has made tons of different sandwiches, some with catchy names that hint at their ingredients, like the vegetarian "Rabbit Habit."
Other names, like the "Yo Mama Osama" or the "Three Mile Island" have capitalized on world events, to have fun and stand out as an establishment.
"We've been through, I don't know, 80 different special sandwiches through the years probably," said Clevenger.
But one sandwich has anchored the menu from the beginning, "The Clubfoot."
"It's basically the core of the menu and was what we sell most of, and we have a lot of other things you can get, and people like that because not everybody likes sandwiches, but it's yeah, it's the bulk of our sales is those sandwiches Clubfoots," said Clevenger.
Clevenger stumbled upon the Clubfoot through creativity in a vision to be a restaurant unlike any other. It's been a primary menu item for the establishment since it first opened its doors on Euclid Avenue.
"I wanted to be able to offer something that was different, and quite unique, and just kind of stumbled into the right place at the right time and found this the bread shape we have. So we just went from there," said Clevenger.
When it comes to the Clubfoot, some would say its cup, or tube-like shape, can be intimidating, and everyone has a different way of attacking the sandwich staple, but all that is important to Clevenger is that it's enjoyed.
"I've seen people come in here, and decide that they need to use a fork and eat it like it's a bowl of salad. You know, other people will tear the top of the bread off and dip that in the sauce, and eat that till you get down into more of all the sandwich ingredients, and go from there. Other people say you just squeeze it flat, and start at the edge, and go across. So everybody has their take on how to correctly eat one," said Clevenger.
By all indications, the Staggering Ox is on a "roll," so "lettuce" celebrate this accomplishment, and the unique "upper crust" sandwich Montana's had for 40 years.