Blackbird

by Angie Ripple  |  Monday Jul. 1st, 2019

A guy named Josh from Tucson opens a restaurant, hires a waitress named Shannon, they fall in love, get married, move to Paris, she studies baking and tells him stories of a little town in Montana where she used to live, he doesn’t want to move back to Tucson, he’s looking for somewhere smaller and upbeat, he says “why not?”, they move to Bozeman, begin looking for a location to open their own restaurant, a few months later they lock in a location and begin designing what we now know as Blackbird. I love a great love story, especially when it includes pizza, don’t you?

Angie Ripple: What roles do you and Shannon play at Blackbird now?

Josh Gibson: We basically run the show. More than anything, we’re cultivating a team that knows how to do it, and is passionate about doing it. We don’t want to be those type of owner-operators who are always micromanaging everything, so we really try to find people who are onboard with what we are doing here, and are passionate about it, and give them as much responsibility as they want. Then, at that point, things become more of a dialogue between all of us. At this point, our focus is just keeping that dialogue as fresh and positive as possible and to give guidance wherever we think we need to. Sometimes we walk in and everything is just perfect and sometimes we walk in and we’re like $%^&, we need to deal with this. And, we have such an amazing crew we can deal with things here. 

AR: How was Blackbird conceptualized?

JG: My wife Shannon is a baker; that’s why we were in Paris. She had just finished studying at the CIA, Culinary Institute of America, in New York and she wanted to go to France and get in with the bread bakers over there. So she applied around, made some connections, got a Visa, and we went over there so that she could take it to the next level. After a year of that, bread was kind of at the core of the thinking and I am a sometimes craftsman, that’s what I did when I was younger, so it was easy to say I’m going to build a wood-fired bread oven and that became the core of it. Beyond that, it kind of became a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants adventure where we were wildly underfunded and looking back now we were really inexperienced, so as we were building the oven the menu sort of evolved out of that. When you have a wood-fired oven, it just makes sense to do wood-fired pizza and that instantly puts you in this Italian genre. We had been frequenting a couple of Italian restaurants in Paris that we were in love with, and we had also been inspired by people like Chris Bianco--a decade ago he was emerging as Mr. Pizza--so we basically pulled our inspiration, all the things we were excited about at that point, and turned it into Blackbird.

AR: What makes Blackbird unique in the Bozeman Food Scene? What do you do that other places don’t?

JG: I honestly don’t know. We actually don’t think about what we do relative to what other restaurants are doing. We just try to stay really focused on what we are doing and what we’re excited about. I think that if you don’t have core inspiration about what you’re doing, you don’t really have anything. So that’s our main mission here is to stay inspired. Right now that [inspiration is] coming from Paris. 

AR: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?

JG: When you come to Blackbird, we want you to have a special experience, a very human, connected experience, a real experience, not something that’s contrived, not something that’s supposed to be something. It’s funny, we get voted best Fine Dining and stuff like that, and we don’t really know what to do with that because we’re not really trying to be Fine Dining. We want it to be a very really down-to-earth experience, and we are trying to reclaim some of that. We just want people to be stoked. We want them to feel like it's a unique, amazing place. We really ask a lot from our staff, not just in terms of the effort, but also in terms of care and working well with each other, working as a team, and I feel like there is an intangible there that gets into everything. I really want that quality of the work to come through, those good vibes basically.

AR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?

JG: It’s just a really upbeat group of people. People that live here want to live here, and I don’t think you can say that about everywhere, or even a lot of places. On average, the population of people here are happy to be here, they’re psyched about winter, they’re psyched about nature, they tend to be healthy and upbeat, and I love that about the community. I love when I walk down the street to get coffee I’ll run into three different people every time and have a great little conversation with them. It's a great place.

AR: What is your most popular dish, or what do your regulars keep coming back for?

JG: I don’t want to single anything out, but it’s the Kale Salad. If I could scientifically understand what is going on with that salad, we’d rule the world. Whatever is going on with that salad is something that just hits people between the eyes. It’s the salt, fat, acid, heat thing; it’s like the perfect balance.

AR: Do you have anything coming up that you want the readers to know about?

JG: Summer is crazy. It’s like Friday night, every night. We’re open every night; just show up. Around the end of the year, a new offering from Blackbird will emerge, stay tuned. 

Pizza is, in fact, a large slice of my own love story. I met my husband on our first day of work at Godfather’s Pizza in Bozeman, MT in 1995. Find your own love of pizza, kale salad, and many more offerings at Blackbird in downtown Bozeman.

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