Missoula Restaurant Owners & Chefs:
Tim Leegan – The Mustard Seed


“Owners and Chefs” is a restaurant section with a twist. To fill either position, chefs and owners must be able to wear many hats: Cook, server, human resource manager, repair person, negotiator, mediator, psychologist, bookkeeper, and more.  Armed with his top 10 questions, Bob Zimorino takes a peek behind the kitchen doors to find out how these local restaurateurs view the restaurant business in their own words.

I have been friends with Dave Hall, Betty Tokumoto and Nancy Tokumoto (the founders of the company) since the early days of the Mustard Seed. Both Betty and Nancy were on my cooking show at different times and Dave and I have shared several rounds of golf over the years. I remember years ago when Tim Leegan came to work for them and over the years Tim and I have become friendly, but this is my first in depth conversation with him about our industry.

There are a lot of restaurants in Missoula. Why should a prospective diner choose yours?

TL: It’s a great restaurant. The atmosphere is wonderful…the food is made fresh and from scratch.  It’s great food at an affordable price.

Does The Mustard Seed have a signature dish?

TL: We have several signature dishes. Everyone has their favorite here. I think our Osaka sauce whether it’s chicken or shrimp is real unique. Nancy and Betty (Tokumoto, company founders) came up with that recipe and I think they came up with something so unique that I have never experienced it anywhere else that I have eaten. It has some addictive flavors to it that people can’t seem to get away from.


What would you want it to say to the person that orders it?

TL: That it is a dish that no one else has and everything is made from scratch.

What is your favorite dish prepared in another Missoula restaurant?

TL: I would have to say the Prime Rib at the Depot.

As a place to do business, why Missoula?

TL: I think Missoula and the Mustard Seed have worked really well together. The Mustard Seed has always been a real participant in the Missoula community and Missoulians have always supported this restaurant for the last…well since 1978 or 9. I think Missoula is a great place and the Mustard Seed has become a restaurant staple in Missoula.

BZ: A lot of Missoulians think that the Mustard Seed started over in what was the Fox theatre site but I recall it first being in the what is now Access Music building which was an old gas station on the southwest corner of Orange and 3rd St.

TM: Yeah that’s right…there were like three tables and it was mostly take-out.

BZ: Geez, you guys have done better.

TM: Laughs out loud and says: Yeah I guess we have.

What is your least favorite cooking trend?

TL: Well I don’t watch television hardly ever to really know about that, but my least favorite restaurant trend is couponing. I don’t believe in giving my product away to build business. I believe that if you have a great product and it is a great value your business will explode over the long term. Giving your product away is a short term solution that diminishes the quality of your restaurant.

It’s the Iron Chef competition and you are up. Who would you rather be up against Bobby Flay or Cat Cora?

TL: Bobby Flay. I think he does a great job.

How do you like working with a consortium of owners? Who gets the final call?

TL: The partners here generally leave it up to the manager of any store to make the final decision. Dave Hall (other founding partner) set it up that way years ago believing that each manager should know best for their own store. I think that I am really fortunate to work for a company that gives me the leeway to make those decisions and the responsibility for them. Each partner gives his point of view and then we discuss it but in the end it is the manager’s decision.

What do you think when you hear someone say: “I think owning a restaurant looks like fun.”

TL: I think it is fun. I think it’s fun when you have the right people behind you and the right people surrounding you but there’s obviously a lot more work involved than what people see. They don’t see the early mornings or the late nights or what goes on behind the scenes, all of the little emergencies and catastrophes that you have to deal with. They see hopefully, everything on the floor running perfectly, with the servers and the bartenders and the kitchen is moving well. Then it is fun…I have fun. But it really is a lot of work. I think that anyone that wants to get in this business should work it for a while and see what it’s all about. Be a bartender’s apprentice and work till 2 in the morning deal with people that you really don’t want to deal with.

Give me 5 words to describe your restaurant.

TL: Atmosphere, food, service, affordability, Missoula

BZ: Thanks Tim.

TL: Thank you Bob, I have to go open for lunch.

Mustard Seed/Noodle Express
Southgate Mall

Checkout Missoula Restaurants and our comprehensive list of Missoula Dining options.  You may also want to watch Bob Zimorino’s Taste It blog or even watch one of his many video blogs–including this series of videos on Chicken Picatta!

See the “Taste It” archive.  Check out Bob’s recipes.


Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.