Five On Black
When we think about food and Montana, there are some traditional staples that always come to mind: steak, buffalo burgers, and huckleberries just to name a few. It is cowboy, old west, chuck wagon fare. Montana food is hearty, rich, and filling. However, to only think of Montana food that way is to do ourselves a great disservice. Beyond the traditions and the first thoughts, there’s a budding foodie community composed of a variety of unique and worldly cuisine. There is also a desire to craft food that is healthy, fresh, and still fills you up and leaves you feeling completely satisfied.
Enter Five on Black. The brainchild of Tom Snyder, this Missoula-based restaurant is thriving and growing on the concept of fast, fresh food combined with the scintillating tastes of Brazil, and people are eating it up. The restaurant now has locations in Missoula, Denver, Boulder, and Bozeman, which joined the ranks of the vibrant downtown restaurant scene in 2015. Five on Black is based on the concepts of speed, customization, and deliciousness. You are in charge of your own Brazilian cuisine and adventure, choosing from a variety of bases, proteins, sides, sauces, and toppings to create a bowl of food that’s all your own. It’s a combination of things you know and love, like chicken, rice, and roasted veggies, and Brazilian-specific ingredients that offer new levels of flavor to those standard favorites. You can add in something new and delicious like feijoada, which is the national stew of Brazil made from a combination of beans, pork, and beef. Five on Black’s conceptualization of the stew also includes bacon. You can also finish your bowl with farofa, a toasted cassava flour that adds a smoky or salty flavor to your food, particularly enhancing the flavor of chosen meats. Their website boasts 70,560 different ways to order their food, taking you 193 years to try all the combinations. That level of variety is unique, fun, and offering something new and fresh to Montana. I had the opportunity to ask Five on Black owner Tom Snyder some questions about his culinary particularities and the experiences of owning a restaurant like this in Montana.
CM: What made you want to get into the restaurant business?
TS: I was a finance major in college and after doing an internship within the field, my sophomore year I realized the traditional finance path was not for me. I started thinking of businesses and as a consumer was in love with the fast casual space; quick, inexpensive, and healthy food. I broke down the top 50 brands who serve that style of food and hold those values, and I tried to figure out what they were doing well and why they were succeeding. My thought was that they took a national cuisine and made it comfortable and familiar to the public. Although Brazilian steakhouses have been growing like crazy in the US, no one had made the jump to turn this incredible food into a fast casual concept.
So, the idea was born. I started working on it my junior year and presented it as part of the statewide business plan competition during my last semester of college at the University of Montana. After winning the competition with the idea of Five on Black, it helped give me the resources and confidence to move forward. I opened up the first location in April 2013, two years after graduating.
CM: What do you enjoy about being a part of the food scene in Montana and specifically Bozeman?
TS: Montana and Bozeman have such an amazing entrepreneurial environment and the communities really support local businesses. Bozeman, although a small town, has a pretty remarkable food scene and for us it has been so much fun to add to the selection that people can have. We are able to really get to know the customers that come in the door and become a part of their week. We also started community nights in Bozeman where 50% of proceeds from the organization that week go back to them, It is part of the give and take in Bozeman that makes it such a special place!
CM: What do you think makes Five on Black unique to Bozeman? What do you guys offer that other places don’t?
TS: In most small towns, there are a few different places that you can go for the same style of food. With us we are the only place that serves Brazilian food in Bozeman and we do it quickly, inexpensively, and with great taste. We are able to introduce people to a whole new set of flavors and give them something to try that they might have not otherwise had, like our Brazilian cheese buns and farofa. Bozeman is such an active community and our goal is to be a part of that lifestyle. The food we serve is something you can feel good about and have after a long run or before you head out to the mountains. People are on the move and want something that is filling and healthy but at a speed that fits their lifestyle. We aim to provide that to the community.
CM: What do you want people to experience when they come to Five on Black?
TS: We hope they’re looking for something new. Something fun. Something that feels familiar, but isn’t. Something that gives their gut what it needs and your tongue what it craves. What we believe in is real food. Healthy, fresh, and gluten free. What we serve is simple stuff put together in just the right way. What you get is made to order at a speed that fits your needs. We want people to enjoy the process of eating in an environment that is filled with friendly staff and people.
CM: What would you say is your bestselling dish?
TS: Our bestselling dish is a base of half crisp greens and half brown rice. Then add some rotisserie cooked chicken, coconut roasted sweet potatoes, and spicy coconut sauce. For toppings I would suggest having tomato onion vinaigrette, farofa, and chimmichurri. Last but not least you have to add a Brazilian cheese bun!
CM: Any upcoming events or specials you want people to know about?
TS: In the next couple of months, we are going to start doing downtown delivers via our Five on Black bicycle! All you have to do is call in your order to the restaurant and we will send our bike rider out to bring the tasty goodness of Five on Black to your office.
My first experience with Bozeman’s Five on Black was during a Music on Main show this past summer. The sun was shining, music was loud, and people were laughing and smiling. A friend and I strolled into Five on Black where we were greeted happily and any questions we had were quickly answered. Within 10 minutes of walking in the door, we were enjoying bowls of spicy creations (I love spicy food) on the outdoor seating at Five on Black, listening to the band jam and watching the melting pot of people Music on Main always attracts. That’s the thing about Five on Black. It adds to the Bozeman experience we all love. It fits.
We will always love, appreciate, and crave those traditional Montana dishes we hold so dearly in this state. We should continue to keep them in our rotation of favorite foods. However, it’s okay to step outside that box. It’s okay to try something new, something we’ve never had before. Five on Black offers us that experience. What’s more, particularly for us in Bozeman, they make the experience something simple to incorporate into our daily routines. If it’s a cold, snow, deep-freeze day in the dead of winter, a visit to Five on Black, and the creation of a hot, spicy bowl, will warm you for whatever winter challenges you may face that day. In the summertime, if you’ve just hiked your way through the Bridgers, enjoying the burn of a day well spent, capping it off with something fresh, healthy, and filling is the perfect way to end the day. Five on Black offers something fun and unique to Bozeman and, above all, it’s absolutely delicious. Oh, and Tom’s not kidding, you should always add a cheese bun to your order!