Having spent her early years in Lewistown, Roundup, and Helena, Montana, Shalon Hastings became familiar with Big Sky Country’s incredibly diverse landscapes and community cultures. She cites a deep pride in the fact that both sets of grandparents homesteaded in Montana (Utica and Grass Range), and a “huge feeling of gratitude my family chose Montana - and that I have that legacy behind me.” As time goes by, Shalon’s affection for this place and its people only grow stronger, and inform her decisions as a community-centric entrepreneur.
“People from out of state tell me they’re coming back to Montana because the people here are so amazingly nice. That means a lot to me. I think that means a lot to a lot of people.”
Upon graduating from Helena High School, Shalon attended the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration where she learned the foundation of business ownership and entrepreneurship. In her own words, she “geeked out about all of it and dove into every project I could…I knew I ultimately wanted to own my own business.”
Shortly after Shalon received B.S in Business Administration, she pursued a career opportunity to Seattle, working as an insurance claims adjuster for a major insurance provider. She recalls immediately recognizing the job and working for a large corporation weren’t for her (in her words: “I hated it”), but falling in love with the diversity of global cuisine available in a large metropolitan area. Shalon soon found herself spending her free time exploring the new and exciting flavors of authentic Mexican, Thai, and Indian food; and teaching herself how to replicate those flavors in her home kitchen.
When city life and an unfulfilling career grew wearisome, Shalon decided it was time to reinvigorate her entrepreneurial instincts and seize growing market opportunity in Montana. When she was settled back in Missoula, she began considering options for opening a restaurant or cafe that would allow her to explore her culinary interests. Recalling her fondness for the Baja style fish tacos she enjoyed during her college days in Missoula, Shalon reached out to Taco del Sol’s owner (and a former UM business school project mate), Dave Beaton:
“I always loved the Taco del Sol concept and the food…so I reached out to Dave and his wife and said I wanted to expand the business into Helena. I was excited to bring that diversity of food to Helena, and knew the community would embrace it.”
Within months, Shalon was working closely with Dave and his wife, Michelle, to develop a franchise agreement. In spring of 2004, Taco del Sol Helena opened its doors as the first franchise location to a hugely positive community reception - and business has been strong ever since.
In 2014, Shalon saw another fantastic entrepreneurial opportunity in Helena when a local coffee shop, HUB Coffee, went up for sale. Given HUB’s prime location in the heart of downtown, Shalon knew she could diversify the menu with unique food options and provide a great option to grab a bite, caffeinate and do some work, or hold a meeting throughout the day. HUB quickly became a local favorite for fast wi-fi, great coffee, and even better service.
Shalon has always drawn on her strong community connections and great business instincts to help grow both Taco del Sol and HUB Coffee. When she was originally looking for retail space and financing options for Taco del Sol, Downtown Helena Inc. was tremendously helpful in connecting her with local banks and property owners. Since then, any loan she’s taken has been administered by the Helena branch of the Small Business Administration. She cites her community involvement as a Myrna Loy Center board member and her sponsorship of Prickly Pear Land Trust events as helping build a groundswell of awareness, excitement, and confidence for her new ventures.
Most importantly, Shalon cites the support she’s received from her close-knit community as a tremendous source of inspiration and encouragement: “That close-knit community feel…feeling that support and enthusiasm for what you’re doing can really carry you during the challenging times. It means everything to me.”
In Spring 2016, the greater Helena community will have another opportunity to rally around Shalon’s inspiring ventures when she opens an East Helena location that will house both a Taco del Sol and a HUB Coffee under one roof. At that point, Shalon’s businesses will be directly responsible for employing nearly 50 people in various capacities.
Through Taco del Sol and HUB, Shalon gets to meet people visiting Helena from all across the country and around the globe. Time and time again, she hears her own sentiments about Montana echoed in the positive feedback she gets from these visiting customers: “People from out of state tell me they’re coming back to Montana because the people here are so amazingly nice. That means a lot to me. I think that means a lot to a lot of people.”