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B3 Fits Right Into The Bozeman Food Scene

Backcountry Burger Bar

photos by Zach Hoffman, by Matt VanSchenkhof  |  Monday Oct. 2nd, 2017

A place named Backcountry Burger Bar probably doesn’t conjure up mental images full of Bozeman’s history or all things Montana. Maybe it is not supposed to, but local history surrounds the restaurant in downtown Bozeman, and its owner’s experiences comprise its pedigree.

Albert MacDonald, owner of Backcountry Burger Bar, came to Bozeman, Montana in the mid 1990s to live the life of a ski bum after finishing jobs and schools in San Francisco and Denver. Born into a family that ran restaurants, he could not stay away from the fast-paced, always-in-motion industry. He started, like many in the restaurant industry, washing dishes. He worked his way through all the positions at Mackenzie River Pizza to regional manager before walking away because it took him too far from his Bozeman home. His career took him to Montana Ale Works as General Manager and eventually he became a partner.

He left and began a journey with his partners to go back to his roots, those ideals and principles he first realized with his mentors during his journey through San Francisco. Albert’s first initiation of his personal view of sustainability is evident in Pizza Campania and Belgrade Montana’s Mint, both Backcountry Burger Bar’s sister operations.

This story leads us to our conversation, sitting in Backcountry Burger Bar’s office, under the sidewalk lining 125 Main Street. Less than 40 feet away sits a crematorium, still there, left over from the building’s second tenants more than 100 years ago. Upstairs sit 18 taps with regional beers and a selection of 16 wines to accompany the burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers.

Backcountry Burger Bar is the culmination of a dream and years of research. There is something so simple about a burger, so much so that one seems to be present on almost every restaurant menu in Bozeman. Every meat-eater out there can name a favorite burger place, so what does Backcountry Burger Bar do to make theirs stand out? That takes us back to that original sentence about history and all things Montana.

Albert and his partners believe a key to offering a great product is to offer a local one. All of Backcountry Burger Bar’s meats are locally sourced. Beyond that, as much of the menu as possible is sourced within the state. Only Montana potatoes are used to make the fries; the root vegetables and kale are from Montana. Even the wheat that is used to make fresh hamburger rolls daily is sourced from the state. It is evident in Albert’s tone that he is passionate about celebrating phenomenal local and regional products on his menu. His stated purpose with the restaurant’s foods are: to only use raw product; do it right; don’t make it pretentious; use Montana products; and to have a clear vision for the end result. This end result is one that celebrates the simple burger. The basic burger is the best seller but there are other exciting versions for those looking for something beyond the traditional. Beyond the burger, several different types of appetizers are available along with a wide selection of salads and sandwiches.

But a restaurant is more than its food. Backcountry Burger Bar’s beverage manager, Joe, established a program that celebrates the same iconic Montana and regional beer brands one can find on tap across Bozeman, but he’s taken it a step further. What one finds on tap here are siblings to known selections elsewhere. For example, instead of Bozeman Brewing’s Select Amber Ale, one finds their Solar Power Maibock. These range from IPAs, sours, ambers, and an Oktoberfest lager. This is carried into the wine selection as well. Albert and Joe’s hope is that you will ask to try a sample, to find something new you may enjoy, and expand your beer or wine repertoire.

This conviviality is found within the atmosphere of Backcountry Burger Bar. It is commonly thought that the staff at a restaurant is only as good as its management. Albert strives to find partners for managers that share his vision and mission, people who believe in the product and are vested in the vision and processes required to maintain that vision. As partners, the staff are not expected to be experts on everything on the operation. Instead, they are supposed to be knowledgeable, curious, fun, and willing to try items on the menu. This translates into a fun, casual atmosphere that is welcoming and relaxed. The soft green tones of the dining area and the seats being so spread out support that concept.

It takes a lot to be successful in the restaurant business. And Albert has created an execution-based operation that is designed to manage the business aspects and focus on how they make the customers and employees feel. His personal belief is that if you can take care of that, then the business will take care of itself. That includes the focus on controllable and executable products and services that allow for reasonable growth while not compromising on the vision.

The future looks promising for Backcountry Burger Bar. Coming soon, customers can expect a happy hour with food, beer, and wine specials. What should you order on your visit? The most popular item is the straight-up Backcountry Burger [lettuce, tomato, onion pickle, american cheese, backcountry sauce] with fries for $9. Ask your servers, and I’m sure they could recommend a beverage to enjoy with it!

That leads us to Albert’s hope for a visit to Backcountry: that one will want to experiment, to enjoy great food in a fun and casual atmosphere without the pretense of spending a lot. He states: “The food and beverages are just vehicles. We want you to feel welcome and have a good time.” That sums up the attitude found throughout Backcountry Burger Bar, although a really good burger can stand on its own!    


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