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Last Dinner Bell?

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Soon after settling into St. Ignatius as the seventh family in a fledgling Amish community, Glen and Polyanna Hochstetler invited all of their new neighbors over for dinner. They pulled out their biggest table, served a mouth-watering home-cooked meal, and the Dinner Bell was born.

Now, six years later, the Hochstetlers work four days a week in preparation for Tuesday and Thursday nights, when they typically serve 204 guests in the enormous log-cabin dining hall Glen and his five sons built in their backyard. The Dinner Bell attracts hungry diners from Hamilton to Kalispell with its infamously hearty fare. The most regular of regular customers come no more than twice a month. Says Hochstetler: “If they came more often they’d get too fat.”

The crowd at the Dinner Bell is a mixed bunch of elderly cowboys, twenty-somethings with dyed hair and scruffy long-haired folk. One recent Tuesday saw visitors from 13 states and Japan. At the start of every meal is a prayer; at the end, the Hochstetlers sing traditional Amish songs.

The Dinner Bell is family run, but the Hochstetlers need to bring in outside help; the strain of two sold-out dinners a week has lately become too much. “Our primary work is for the Lord,” says Hochstetler, “and this takes away from it.”

And so the Hochstetler residence is up for sale, a potential buyer has been identified, and the closing of the deal could take place within two weeks. The Hochstetlers plan to buy land in Gold Creek in order to start a new Amish community along with three other families. “When [the Amish] move in somewhere new, people are usually leery,” says Hochstetler. “We have been well received in Montana.”

Hochstetler says that there is only a slight chance of the Hochstetlers reviving the Dinner Bell in Gold Creek. “Customers ask when the last meal will be; we tell them it’s in the Lord’s hands,” Hochstetler says with a smile. “They usually say, ‘In that case, we pray the Dinner Bell won’t be sold!’”

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