Nostalgia for big fins and chrome, along with old-school American fare, has arrived in Helena.

Highway 55, an East Coast chain that is a cross between fast-food and a sit-down restaurant, opened today at 2530 North Montana Ave. It is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

"We are extremely thrilled to open our first location here in the West and be a part of this amazing brand,” said Timothy Jittu, master franchise owner with his wife Brenda, who together have more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry.

Timothy and Brenda have lived in the Helena area for the past three years. They made the move from Hawaii for family reasons, and once a grandchild came along they decided to stick around. 

Highway 55 markets itself as a fresh, made-to-order restaurant that is "not typical fast food," Justine Mckechnie, a member of the Highway 55 marketing team said. "There's a ’50s style diner vibe."

"It's not fast food," Jittu said. "But we try to get it out fast."

Offerings include cheese steaks, burgers, fries, tots and frozen custard, a rich ice cream that includes eggs to give it an unusual creaminess.

Jittu and Mckechnie were also effusive about the way the company conducts itself, especially with its "Love Your Neighbor" ethos.

"We decided on Highway 55 because of the love concept," Jittu said. "Me and the wife had that philosophy and we want to help others."

Highway 55 has hired just about 60 new employees from around the Helena area, mostly high-school age students who will be working as waiters and cooks. Mckechnie said that waiters would receive the $8.30 Montana minimum wage, along with tips.

"It's a big part of the business," she said. "Investing in people and young people especially."

Highway 55 is known for promoting from within and having new franchise owners be employees and managers who worked at other branches of the chain.

When school starts, even more hires will probably be made, Mckechnie said, as schedules change and the business shifts.

This will be the first of at least five new Highway 55 restaurants in Montana, and Jittu said he had already heard from a number of people expressing interest in owning a franchise.

"We have some ideas," Jittu said, but he was coy about naming specific locations in order to avoid competition. He said the corporation wanted him to commit to 10 new Highway 55 branches, but he declined. "I'm not a high school kid anymore!" Jittu said with a laugh.

After several days of training, Jittu gave the team Saturday off in preparation for the Sunday opening and the long haul. He and his wife have already started working with some charitable groups in Helena, another part of the Highway 55 ethos, in order to provide another positive impact. 

"We want to pour back into the community," Jittu said. 

 For more information, call the restaurant at 406-996-1042.

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Crime and Health Reporter

Crime and health reporter for the Helena Independent Record.

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