Sidewinders American Grill
Angie Ripple | Sunday Nov. 1st, 2020
Sidewinders in Bozeman has been serving the community since June 2017, holding firm to its founder’s Marine Corps values of “leaders eat last” and “take care of your people.” Sidewinders is a family-run business that loves to serve the families of the Gallatin Valley and beyond. We sat with Regional President of the Blue Collar Restaurant Group Blane Woodfin to talk about all things Sidewinders American Grill.
Angie Ripple: How was Sidewinders conceptualized?
Blane Woodfin: My wife Ellie’s parents started in the restaurant business in Jackson, WY, in 1989. My father-in-law was a Marine Corp fighter pilot, and after he got out of the Marines they moved to Jackson and bought a little taco shack called The Merry Piglets. At that time, it was only open seasonally in summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day; it was walk up service, very fast casual, and that was their first foray into the restaurant business. After a few years of struggling to learn the business and figure it out, they converted that into a full service, year-round business and had an opportunity to take over some space in another building to open another restaurant. Joe, my father-in-law, has always loved diners, and that’s kind of where the inspiration for Foxtrot came from, so they opened this restaurant called The Blue Moon Diner. It was a lot of old school comfort food, scratch kitchen, and a lot of the things you see at Sidewinders today were on the original menu at The Blue Moon Diner, even down to the Chicken Pot Pie, French Dip, French Onion Soup, and all that good stuff. Blue Moon Diner was an immediate hit in Jackson, breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was super busy, and it was right next door to an old bar called the Teton Rose, and when that went out of business the landlord called Joe and was like ‘hey we’ve got this space and you’ve already got this diner next door, would you be interested in taking over?’ and he was like ‘ya, sure’, so he called up all of his Marine buddies. They had talked over the years about opening a bar together, making it all Marine Corp themed and so they did it. They took over the Teton Rose, hung up a bunch of model airplanes and opened Sidewinders. Originally, it was just a bar; it was a bar-bar. Some of the stories Joe tells about the things they did at first to try to make it to work were hilarious; like KISS cover bands and Chip and Dale dancers and all sorts of crazy stuff that we don’t do anymore, but he was just figuring out the concept. What ended up happening was that the guys who had become the loyal customer base were mainly blue-collar workers, people that we assimilate with, but they wanted food from Blue Moon Diner. So, they order a Chicken Pot Pie and then ask if they can sit at the bar at Sidewinders and eat it. So, it just made common sense that we just need to combine these two concepts. So essentially that is what is Sidewinders today: Blue Moon Diner in the kitchen and Sidewinders in the bar.
AR: The Chicken Pot Pie is my favorite.
BW: It was crazy, when it got featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, I was managing the Sidewinders in Jackson and overnight it was insane, people calling from all over the country asking for the recipe and asking if we could ship them one.
AR: Awesome. What makes Sidewinders unique in the Bozeman Food Scene?
BW: I think that what makes Sidewinders so special is that it appeals to the masses. What that really is, we already talked about the comfort food aspect, but it’s all homemade. You can’t get on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives if 95%+ of your menu isn’t made from scratch, and I think that’s one of the things that really stood out to them, and that they really liked about our restaurant is that it wasn’t a typical Diners, Drive-Ins or Dive but that it’s a big restaurant concept with a diner in it, but we still take the time to make things homemade.
I also think the concept being bettering home, with the Marine Corp emphasis, the American Flag on the wall, that resonates with a lot of people here and it’s authentic, it’s who we are. Joe being a Marine Corp fighter pilot is the whole background of the concept. In fact, the partners who invested in the original Sidewinders in 1997, most of them are in our investment group at Sidewinders in Bozeman. It really is the background of our culture. Sidewinders is our flagship for the company and is the foundation for our company culture as The Blue Collar Restaurant Group.
AR: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
BW: That’s a great question because I think that walking through the doors is one of the most important parts of the restaurant experience. We really, really try hard to have a top-notch experience at the host stand. Walking in right now, you will be greeted at the front door because we can’t allow anybody to wait inside. But you’ll find someone who is smiling, helpful, courteous, and kind. We are thankful that people have made the choice to come to one of our restaurants because we know that there’s a ton of other choices out there, so we want people to feel like it’s appreciated, because it genuinely is. Restaurants can be stressful places to work sometimes, but we try hard to communicate with customers how much we appreciate them, and thank them for choosing us.
AR: What do your regulars keep coming back for?
BW: I definitely think it’s the people. I mean the food is definitely important, 76 draft beers doesn’t hurt either, but company-wide our tag line is “Service First” because that is our mindset across all eight Blue Collar Restaurant Group locations, is that service is what drives the restaurant experience, and what differentiates us and what brings the customers coming back. What we always talk to our teams about is that it doesn’t matter if you put five-star food on the plate, or mix the perfect cocktail, if the customer doesn’t have a good experience with the bartender or server that food is not going to taste as good, or the cocktail isn’t going to taste as good.
AR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?
BW: For me personally it’s been a great opportunity. It’s been a big challenge coming in and starting from scratch, but that’s been the big thing for me is to start, and build a company culture from scratch. Even though it has been extremely challenging, especially at first, it’s been a huge rewarding experience to me to be able to gain traction on that, and become a leader in the community, and work with this network of people between our employees, of course, our suppliers, different businesses that we work with, vendors, craftsman we work with on our buildouts, that’s been hugely rewarding to me.
AR: How has it been running the restaurant through the pandemic?
BW: Obviously this is unprecedented for everyone, I think particularly challenging for the restaurant industry. We were closed, offering only take-out and delivery services for six weeks, which anyone that knows anything about the restaurant industry already knows that our margins are razor thin to begin with, so then you cut our revenues down to a fraction for a month and a half and it’s completely understandable why so many restaurants are going out of business right now because it was extremely challenging, not just for me, or any other individuals in the company, just for the company itself, to be able to stretch as thin as we did, to keep people employed, and try and maintain our payroll, and also maintaining our customer loyalty too. A lot of restaurants made the decision to close outright for the stay-at-home period; we decided to stay open even though we were losing money every day, because we felt that keeping the taste of our food in our customers’ mouths was extremely important, maintaining that brand loyalty, and I think it was the right decision.
I would say internally the challenges for me were improving on communications with our team. We have over 150 employees in Bozeman alone, but then also my role in helping out in our Jackson market as well. Coming up with systems that make sense, pivoting to improve on our operations, and making customers feel safe. And, also trying to build revenue streams too. We’ve on-boarded delivery services like Door Dash and Uber Eats through all this too which has been huge for us, in keeping us afloat. You don’t have months to figure these things out, it’s more like days, and you have to make a decision and go for it. It’s been really exciting and challenging, but I’d rather be challenged and active at something than stagnant.
I’d like to give praise and applause to our leadership team. It’s one thing to help develop the systems and figure out what to do after this, but they are really the ones who have their boots on the ground and make it happen every day and that’s important to our customers and our staff. I hear from the staff every day about how our managers are doing a great job of following our operational protocol, making them feel safe being at work, and feeling like we’re doing the right things, and also making customers feel good, and handling the crowds. I just want to shout them out big time because we couldn’t do it without our management team and leaders in the business.
AR: Is there anything coming up that you would like the readers to know?
BW: It sounds crazy, but we are looking at opening some new restaurants. We have a sushi bar concept that we are looking to do in the Market building adjacent to Tanglewood. Our goal for that is to make it not only sushi on the West side of town, but also approachable sushi, really fun, casual, approachable price points, and we’ll be taking a lot of the sushi concept that we have at our restaurant Noodle Kitchen in Jackson and bringing that to Bozeman. We have a two phenomenal sushi chefs working in the company since we opened Tanglewood and Foxtrot and we are really looking forward to giving them that opportunity to help us build the business with a concept that they are really excited about. We are starting to lay out our Tex-Mex restaurant The Merry Piglets; it’s another replication of one of the original restaurants in Jackson. So that is planned to go in the lot just West of Sidewinders, so West across from the entrance to Ferguson Farm, and we’re really excited for that. We’ve just rebranded Merry Piglets for Jackson; we feel like that’s a really tight concept now that we’ll be able to open with and hit the ground running.
AR: What does being voted Bozeman’s Choice mean to the Blue Collar Restaurant Group?
BW: We all know that this is a fun, friendly competition, but it is really meaningful. We have a very humble culture in our company and most of our staff and our management team probably downplay it, but I know it means a lot to them and it just shows how supportive our locals are and that is what really drives our business. I would say 90+% of our business is locals, which is the way that we like it. We don’t see ourselves as a restaurant that serves the tourism industry, although I know that’s a part of what we do, The locals keep the lights on for sure, and they drive what we’re doing, and their feedback is really valuable to us.
Sidewinders and the Blue Collar Restaurant Group are ready to earn your business and your loyalty. Find their restaurants on the West Side of Bozeman in the Ferguson Farm area. Semper Fi, Bozeman!