Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Real Story of Gamer's Cafe and Confections in Butte, Montana

I received an email yesterday about my post from last year about Gamer's Cafe in Butte, Montana. The writer, David Greger, has kindly permitted me to share it here.

My mom was Elsie Jane Gamer, and was the only child of Walter and Stella Gamer. She was born in Butte in 1922. Her father and his brother, Fred Gamer, founded "Gamer's" in the early 1900's at a different location than you show in your blog. I believe Gamer's was started between 1905 and 1910. Fred's wife was nick-named "Babe." She and Fred had no children and she took an active role in the management of the business and was very well known in Butte.

Gamer's was both a restaurant and a confectionary, making wonderful cakes, ice-cream and candies. My grandmother, Stella Gamer, told me that the chocolates were dipped so that the little swirl of chocolate on the top would be unique for each flavor of candy and provide the clue to what was inside. The restaurant catered to the miner's ethnic backgrounds and made the famous pasties, which are meat-pies beloved by the Welsh miners. When I was a kid, my mom still had some of the glass soda straw/spoons from Gamer's. They were tubes of glass attached to a pastel glass spoon at the base of the straw. And we used salad forks through my childhood that were engraved with the same "Gamers" trademark that you see on the top of the candy box in your photograph. That was a registered trademark.

In late 1932 the original Gamer's caught fire. There was a paint business next door and the fire originated there and spread to Gamers. My mother remembered my grandfather walking out of the store with the cash register in his arms and going back in for the big marble slabs used to form so many kinds of candy. The establishment was destroyed. During the holiday season of 1932, the famous Gamer's candies were all made in the basement of Fred and Babe's house and they apparently had very substantial sales from that temporary location that season. My grandfather, Walter Gamer, died very tragically in March of 1933. My mother was not quite 11 years old. My grandmother sold her share of the business to Fred and Babe and eventually moved to Billings. Fred and Babe relocated the business to the site you visited and which you show on your blog. Fred ran the store until his death in 1949 at which time the business passed from the Gamer family.

Bruce Shepperd was originally the ice-cream maker at Gamer's. When the Gamer's interest in the business was sold, Mr. Shepperd started "Shepperd's Candies" where he continued to make some of the original Gamer's recipes. I remember going into his store in 1971 and buying the peppermint "chews" which were like pieces of a candy cane but chewy and delicious. Gamer's recipe for Almond Roca was sold to Brown & Haley who still market it in the famous pink cans. My mother's cousin has all the documents pertaining to the sale of that recipe.

My great-grandfather, Fred Gamer, came to Montana in territorial days to sell shoes to the miners and prospectors. He settled in Helena and had four sons and two daughters in that order. The older two sons were welcomed into the shoe business. The younger sons must have felt the shoe business was adequately staffed so Fred and Walter headed to Butte where they founded Gamer's. The shoe business continued for decades in Helena, Butte, and Great Falls as "Gamers Shoes" operated by Bill Miles, the son of Ada Gamer Miles one of the sisters.

I hope you find this interesting. Butte is a wonderful old town and when my mother was a child it was a prosperous and bustling city. Gamer's was an institution known by everyone in the greater Butte area.

David Greger
Portland, Oregon
Thanks, David. It's wonderful to hear the details of a small, family-run business. It must have been incredibly hard to rebuild after the fire, particularly because it was the height of the Depression. And they didn't just rebuild: They made a thing of beauty.

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