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To look at North 19th Avenue in Bozeman is to look at what seems like an endless array of chains. Don’t get me wrong, I do think chain and big box stores serve a very valuable purpose to a community (employing local people, namely), but sometimes it can feel like an area has lost its authentic charm when chains start to encroach too heavily. And in Bozeman, that authentic charm is paramount, especially in the restaurant scene. Locals want a place they can fall in love with, a place that is unlike any other eating experience, a place they can bring their family and say, “Look. This is Bozeman on a plate.” So to say 19th Avenue is all chains does a great disservice to those treasured gems strewn along its side streets. One of those little gems is Biankini’s.
In 2010, Robin and Jim Lester chose the quaint little spot that’s home to Biankini’s, making this their sixth year of business. Across the street from Buffalo Wild Wings, the building is clean and bright, with six or seven black patio sets and umbrellas inviting you through the front doors the moment you step out of your car. Once you enter, the vibe is relaxed, but fun. Music pumps through the in-house stereo system, some of the tables are occupied by hungry patrons while some come in and out taking their to-go orders with them off to the day’s adventures. That is the nature of Biankini’s. It feels like everyone fits in here, no matter where you came from or where you’re headed. You can see large groups of high school kids, happy young families, or a quiet group of retirees all sharing delicious food and a kind smile all in this single space. Even the staff behind the counter is instantly friendly when you walk through the door. It just looks like everyone is smiling and having a good time with what they’re doing. So, it was no surprise that Robin Lester, owner of Biankini’s with her husband Jim, and I were laughing together in the first five minutes of our chat.
CM: What made you want to be in the restaurant business?
RL: My husband had a plumbing and heating business, which he sold, and I was a mortgage lender. The recession hit and we didn’t really want to go back to our old jobs. Our friend had a restaurant in California, and we were going to open a branch in Bozeman. Instead, he just decided to give us his restaurant. Even the name is his last name, with just some of the lettering changed. So we got the name, the recipes, everything. It fit well with what we were already interested in, too. I’ve always had a passion for food, always been a foodie, so it was something I already enjoyed doing. There are a lot of bad restaurants out there, wherever you go. We just really wanted to do the best we could. We wanted to show people what a good restaurant is. We’ve been doing it for almost six years now in this location.
CM: What do you enjoy most about owning a restaurant, specifically in Bozeman?
RL: Getting to know everyone that comes through the doors is the number one best thing about owning a restaurant here. We have a really wonderful core group of regulars who come here all the time and we get to celebrate really personal moments with them. But, we also have to share in the heartbreak they go through, too. They will come in for their usual favorites and be going through something. We are now a part of their support system. We also get a ton of tourism traffic being here. I always try to be extremely nice to everyone who comes to us. And, I think I instill that in my staff. I have a really versatile staff, so we’re pretty well represented. We can connect and interact with customers from all generations. Plus, everyone is really personable. I try to choose a staff specifically with that in mind and I’ve been lucky. We’ve got a really great group here.
CM: What makes Biankini’s unique to the food scene in Bozeman?
RL: Well, for starters, everything is made fresh. Everything. It’s all right there in front of you. I buy the highest quality cheese and hunt for the absolute freshest veggies. We only use premium meats, too. For instance, I buy the whole muscle whenever I can, so the customer really is getting top quality food. It is the best of the best. When it comes down to it, cost is the last consideration. I would much rather put out a top quality product that’s expensive versus something of lesser quality just because it cost a little less. On top of that, we are constantly changing and doing things differently to learn more about how to better serve our customers. We do lots of blind taste testing here. And it’s not just me and my husband. We get the whole staff involved in the taste tests. We once did a blind taste test on mayo, because someone told me that they had one that was absolutely amazing. We all tasted it and in the end, ours was better! But, we just did another tasting with our roast beef and found one that we liked better, so we changed it out. We really do want to stay on top of the market and make sure we are making changes so the end product is always really good.
CM: Oh! How fun that you get the whole staff involved! So knowing that, what do you want people to experience here?
RL: Overall, we want everyone to be happy and relaxed. That’s really what it comes down to. There are some places out there that are, for lack of a better word, a bit pompous. We never want to be that. We want to be welcoming, fun, and inviting for every single person who steps through our doors. We put the tables outside for summer and a lot of people choose to sit out there when it’s nice out. It sort of adds to the experience of eating good food. That matters to us. We just want premium food served in a relaxed atmosphere that makes people happy. That’s what it’s all about.
CM: I think that’s a great goal! So, what do you think is the most current popular dish here at Biankini’s?
RL: People love our Number 3. It’s a turkey, avocado, Monterey jack with onion, tomato, lettuce, and pesto sauce. That’s not my favorite though. My favorite is the Number 10. It has Santa Fe chicken, green chilies, pepper jack with onion, tomato, lettuce, and mayo. That one has a nice spice to it.
To look at Biankini’s menu is to know it’s hard to choose a favorite dish. They have an endless smorgasbord of unique sandwich choices and anyone would be happy with the combos including choices of soups or salads. If you can’t find something you like, build your own! You can choose the bread, spread, and all the fixings to have their staff create the sandwich of your dreams. You get the same option to build your own salads, too! The customization is really great and they are sensitive to dietary needs, including some gluten-free options.
Their soups are my personal favorite though. A quick browsing of their recent specials will give you just a taste of their unique soup offerings. Concoctions like cheesy artichoke and Brazilian stew will make your mouth water. And as the weather starts to cool off around here, trust me, you will be hitting Biankini’s for a new soup flavor almost daily.
They also have a great kid’s menu that boasts a lot of food for the price, ranging from $3-$5. That includes chips and juice. Another thing that makes this quaint soup and sandwich shop so great: they handle to-go orders with ease and a smile. Hit them up early and take your lunch with you to the park or up the hiking trail. It will be the most delicious reward after a long day of adventuring. Or, for the working crowd, dash over and see them on your lunch break. The service is quick and friendly, so you’ll be back to work in no time with a full, satisfied stomach. This place definitely has something for every budget, every schedule, and every appetite.
Biankini’s is must-stop in Bozeman’s food landscape. Get past the big box stores on 19th. Move beyond the chain restaurants. Pop into this bright, happy shop and enjoy the flavors they create. Just be sure you say hi to Robin and try for a seat on the patio to enjoy a bit of that warm sunshine with your sandwich. I promise you won’t be disappointed.