After 26 years, restaurant owner sees local business' bittersweet end

Samantha Hill

For the past 26 years, Lois Mann has been serving food to Livingston residents, and now as she shuts down her restaurant, Bittersweet Bakery, she looks back over how she spent her time in the area.  

Mann, along with her daughter, Cynthia Down, will close Bittersweet — named after the flower, not the chocolate — on Friday.

Mann, 81, started the restaurant in 2004, only a few short months after she closed down her previous establishment, the Humble Heart Cafe.

Mann moved to the area in the 1980s from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and then began the Humble Heart in 1991. She said her family told her she was crazy for moving to Livingston, but she said real estate was cheap then and she was eager to start her own restaurant.

She opened Humble Heart on Second Street in a little house where she saw her fair share of celebrities.

“I cooked for Robert Redford before” Mann said about Redford’s time in Livingston shooting films.  

For a while, he would come in almost every day and even sent her tickets to a movie premiere of his, she said.

Mann also recalled when Brad Pitt visited her restaurant during the filming of  “A River Runs Through It.”

She said Pitt was a huge fan of her turkey sandwiches, and she would provide him tuna patties some evenings.

“His assistant would come to the restaurant and pick them up,” she said.

Mann said she also had her challenges, such as waiting on over 83 people at her restaurant by herself.

By 2004, the area had slowed down a little, causing her customers to visit less and less, so she felt it was a good time to shut the Humble Heart Cafe’s doors, Mann said. However, her daughter had recently finished a stint at pastry school and wanted to create her own business with her mother.

“We opened (Bittersweet) 52 days after shutting down the old business,” she said.

Many of the Humble Heart’s items, such as the tables, were used again at Bittersweet Bakery, located at 121 S. 2nd St. Mann and her daughter quickly painted the place, giving it a blue Parisian cafe look.

Since opening the businesss, the cafe owners have been known for various things. Down is well known for her intricately decorated cookies and cakes, which her mother has categorized in a photo album over the years, while Mann is known for her breads and entrees — usually something with potatoes.

Mann said the two worked well together and fought very rarely.

“We got along well and suffered together,” Mann said.

Though she loves the business and her customers, Mann said both she and her daughter are getting older and they wanted to take a break for a bit, for both of them to catch up on their own projects.

As she made plans to close the business, Mann noticed that in the neon sign out front, which reads “Bittersweet,” the word “sweet” was burned out. It had done that in the past, but this is the first time it didn’t light back up again.

“I feel like that is definitely bittersweet,” she said.