Stüble is a German term for a small room. Sylvia Allen describes the stüble in her childhood home, in Germany’s Black Forest region, as the cozy space where her family would spend time and eat meals together.
Cozy isn’t the first word that comes to mind as you approach Alpenstüble, if you even notice it. Allen’s bakery in Stevensville, along Highway 93, is set back in a small shopping center next to a Conoco.
But inside, the bakery is brimming with its owner’s warmth and personality. Allen’s mother’s bundt cake pans hang behind the counter, next to a sign that reads “Hausgemachtes von der Chefin” — “homemade by the chef.” There’s a cuckoo clock on the wall. Rather than tables, customers sit at two benches made from reclaimed wood.
The decor’s centerpiece is a wall mural depicting pastoral German countryside, but the mountains in the background are actually part of the Bitterroot range. The merger is a visual representation of the journey that led to this one-of-a-kind old-country outpost on the remains of the American frontier.
Alpenstüble is the realization of a dream Allen envisioned 13 years ago. She had moved to the U.S. in the 1980s with her then-husband and two children. One of her daughters, Melissa, was diagnosed with a developmental disability, and Allen turned her attention to preparing her daughter for adulthood. Alarmed by the lack of available support services and job training, Allen resolved to start a restaurant where employees with disabilities could learn practical skills in a nurturing environment. She put together a business plan, found a space for the business in Oregon — and then the ambition crashed for lack of financing.
Allen waited another seven years until, in 2015, she and Melissa drove to Montana and decided to settle in the Bitterroot. Two weeks later, Alpenstüble was born, first at farmers markets and then, in 2016, at its current Stevensville storefront.
The bakery continues in the spirit of Allen’s original idea. Melissa runs the register and helps bake, and while the business doesn’t operate as a formal job program, Allen has hired other adults with disabilities as employees. Her philosophy, she says, is to focus on what her employees can do, rather than fixate on what they can’t.
“I want to be that stepping stone [so they can] go out and do their own thing,” Allen says.
Alpenstüble’s signature treats are its traditional pretzels, which are dense and chewy, closer to a bagel than the spongy stuff most places around Missoula serve. Allen says they’re a hit during the summer with carb-craving bicyclists cruising by on the nearby Bitterroot Trail. Allen bakes a full line of tarts, scones, sweet pastries, cakes and breads, as well. Most of the recipes were handed down through her family. Beyond baked goods, Allen serves traditional German lunches on weekdays and hosts special three-course dinners, by reservation, every other Saturday.
“It’s all authentic German. That’s what I’m all about,” Allen says.
She’s also committed to using local ingredients, which is why one of her signature custom cakes, a Black Forest Cake, is topped with Flathead cherries. Allen likes to tell the stories behind her dishes, adding to Alpenstüble’s homey charm. As does the laptop set up to display a slideshow of the menu. Some personal photos of Allen’s home made their way into the slideshow — accidentally, she says, but also fittingly.
As she describes the crocks on a shelf, also from home, Allen recalls one of her last conversations with her late father. “Don’t ever forget where you’re from,” he told her. “That’s what makes you unique.”