Local Life: Blast From the Past


This former church—bought for $666.66—has been a community gathering spot for six decades.

// By Samantha Simma
The Calico Bar & Restaurant, on the southern end of Highway 390 near Wilson, opened in 1966. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

One of the oldest restaurants in Teton County is still the crown jewel of Moose-Wilson Road—an American-Italian bar and restaurant that turns 400 to 500 covers on a busy summer night. At Calico Bar & Restaurant, muted lighting and a crackling fireplace are welcome comforts on dark, snowy evenings. During the summer, parents sip wine at deck tables while kids romp on the large, grassy lawn. It’s date night with a built-in babysitter. 

In a past life, Calico’s bar was a church on Mormon Row—a homesteading settlement north of the town of Jackson (read more on page 32). Built in 1905, the church had been abandoned by the late 1950s. In 1966, friends Tim Mackay and Tom Jewell purchased it for $666.66 from Grand Teton National Park, a bid that Mackay says was “actually kind of a joke.” What wasn’t a joke was that the park service accepted the bid and wanted the building moved within 30 days. 

Mackay and Jewell purchased five acres on the Moose-Wilson Road for $15,000, and installed the former church on it with the idea of opening a beer bar and pizza parlor. They came up with the name “Calico” while driving through California buying equipment for the new restaurant; their route took them past the ghost town of Calico. “Neither of us had any pizza experience, but we had lots of experience in beer,” Mackay says. Together, the friends developed Calico Pizza Parlor’s pizza crust recipe and insisted each pie be hand-tossed.

I’m the only guy in the history of the world who turned a Mormon church into a bar. It’s a great source of personal pride.”

—John Becker

Bartender John Callahan talks with with Denny Ashand another Calico patron in 1991. Photo by W. Garth Dowling

In 1971, 1,500 square feet were added onto the church building. The addition served as the main restaurant and bar space, while the old church was used as a space for children and families. Four years later, John Becker, an early employee, bought the business. “I was scared because I was just a ski bum and a hippy,” said Becker, who passed away last winter. One of his first changes was to move the bar back inside the former Mormon church. Becker told Jackson Hole News&Guide, “I’m the only guy in the history of the world who turned a Mormon church into a bar. It’s a great source of personal pride.” Becker also turned 1.5 acres of Calico’s lawn into a garden that supplied the restaurant with more than 50 pounds of lettuce and spinach a day. (Today, Calico still has a .25-acre on-site garden that grows produce used by the restaurant.)

In 1996, Becker sold Calico to his friend Jeff Davies in a deal hashed out while skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The men found themselves riding the Après Vous chairlift together. Becker shared with Davies that he was done with Calico. “You need to buy the Calico from me,” Davies remembers him saying. Three chairlift rides later, the men had reached a deal (which took attorneys 30 pages of paperwork to make official).  

Davies expanded Calico’s menu to include pastas, sandwiches, and desserts. He also doubled the size of the restaurant, resulting in the present-day dining room and kitchen, and had the building painted a deep rust color with crisp white trim and railings. The latter was an homage to the red-and-white tablecloths of traditional pizza joints.

In early 2022, three former Calico managers—Betsy Campbell, Andy Ward, and Julie Broughten—came together to buy the business. Broughten had previously invested in the restaurant in 2017, but Davies had a stipulation for her before he’d sell her a greater share: she had to work every position in the building. From the hostess stand to the kitchen, she did. “I wasn’t the greatest in the kitchen, much to Chef Cody Allen’s chagrin,” she says. “There’s nothing locals fear more than change, and we try to keep things similar to what they always have been. You can almost always count on seeing a familiar face inside Calico, which is why Calico (and the bar in particular) is like Wilson’s Living Room.”

Open at 5 p.m. daily; 2650 WY-390, Wilson; 307/733-2460, calicorestaurant.com JH

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