When Scott and Marie Westphal opened Sir Scott’s Oasis Steakhouse & Lounge on July 1, 1980, the newly engaged couple took on the challenge of a new restaurant almost entirely alone.
“Marie was the only waitress and I was the only cook,” Scott said. “1980 was a busy year for us.”
With the help of friends, family and countless loyal staff members, the Manhattan staple has come a long way. Scott said they now employ more than 40 people to run the eatery known for its steaks and commitment to homemade meals.
He told the story of Sir Scott’s evolution at a Manhattan Rotary Club luncheon last week after receiving the club’s 2017 Business Owner of the Year Award. Rotary Club President Gary Stoner said this is the first time the club’s given the award to one of its own members, let alone a pair of them.
Scott began working at the original Oasis when he was just 16, he said. The restaurant was located in the Friendly Tavern dining room in Belgrade then. He planned to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York a few years later, but was given the opportunity to co-open a steakhouse in Whitehall.
“Instead of going to chef school, I ended up going to Whitehall,” he said.
Then, he got a call from the Oasis’ previous owner asking if he’d like to move the restaurant to Manhattan and take over. Scott and Marie got to work.
Though the building in Manhattan was in “horrific” shape, the pair opened up shop in about a month. Scott said it took 11 years for the place to turn a profit.
In 1989, though, Sir Scott’s got a sudden boost from a beef commercial that aired nationwide. Scott said one of the five “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” ads filmed nationwide featured Manhattan and the inside of his restaurant. Though the ad didn’t mention the restaurant’s name, it’s long, far reaching run on television gained Sir Scott’s a great deal of notoriety.
After the commercial aired, Scott said the business grew from 12 employees and $400,000 in annual sales to 22 employees and more than $1 million in annual sales in just a year.
“And the next year, we turned around and doubled that again,” he said. “It was really a boost to our business.”
A misunderstanding involving Ted Turner, Jane Fonda and a lack of reservations brought some unexpected attention to the restaurant, too. After a visit to the Gallatin Valley, rumor had it that the famous pair was refused service at a local restaurant because of Fonda’s anti-Vietnam war activism. Many thought it was Sir Scott’s, but the Westphals said they were merely turned away because they had no reservation and the restaurant was full.
Still, Scott estimated they’ve received more than 250,000 letters, emails and phone calls over the years thanking them for refusing service to Fonda.
Though Sir Scott’s earned national recognition because of the strange mix-up, the restaurant seems to have endured in the hearts of locals simply because of the Westphals’ commitment to the community.
Several rotary club members noted how the couple has employed countless teenagers and people who may have had trouble finding other work over the decades in a town with few other options for unskilled labor.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Marie said.
Scott said the key to a good business is treating employees well and retaining solid long-term staff members. They’ve always paid “above-scale” wages because they want to support their staff as much as possible. In return, the couple said they’ve felt the love from the wider Manhattan community.
“A good community is behind a good business,” Marie said. “We’re grateful for everything everyone has done for us over the years.”
As the rotary luncheon wound to a close, both Scott and Marie made it clear they’re just pleased to have been able to serve Manhattan for so long.
“We’re pretty blessed, really, and happy to be here,” Scott said. “It’s been quite a business.”
“And quite a journey,” Marie added.