Open Range: A Uniquely Montana Experience
by Angie Ripple
The best traditions of Montana hospitality await all guests of Open Range, Downtown Bozeman’s premiere Steakhouse. With over three decades of culinary and hospitality experience, owners Jay and Mary Bentley continue to bring the highest quality food and warmest, friendliest service to every guest. I sat down with this duo recently to find out more about their history and what to expect from them in the near future. Enjoy!
Angie Ripple: How was Open Range conceptualized? How did this place come about?
Jay Bentley: It was kind of an evolution of the Mint, which we had before. We had a great space available, and we liked the location on Main Street, and we thought it was an opportunity to bring a new experience. In a way it’s very traditional because if you look at classic Steak Houses everywhere, which is what we really are, there are certain basics, so we try to stick to those basics, but we also try to incorporate some innovative ideas. We’re not trying to be James Beard award winners, we just want people to come in and experience the best we can do for them.
There is a constant battle between pricing and quality, and we made up our minds that quality is more important, so our prices tend to be reflective of the quality. That’s kind or our philosophy, if we have to choose I would rather go with great products at higher prices than mediocre prices. If you give people the best, they are willing to experience that, but like any other restaurant, or any other business it’s always a balance.
AR: What do you consider as the basics; you mentioned the basics of Steak Houses?
JB: Consistency, quality. Mary Bentley joins the conversation: and definitely service.
AR: Tell me a little about yourselves. What made you want to get into the restaurant industry?
JB & MB: Both laughing, we don’t want to go there!
MB: Well Jay you can start, because actually, Jay has been in the business for how many years?
JB: Too many, since 1982. I started in Ennis in 1982 at the Continental Divide. Then, we did The Mint (Belgrade) and that’s when Mary started to get involved. Then, in 2013 we opened Open Range.
MB: We had an opportunity here and it was either cross that rubicon or not and we are very glad we did. It’s been great. The community has been very supportive, our regulars are just incredible people, but it’s hard work, it’s really hard work, but it’s good.
Do you know about the dog wall? Shortly after we opened up I was driving to the restaurant and I was thinking ‘what does the community love? What can we do for the community? And I’m driving and I see someone walk their dog, and I’m driving and I see someone walk their dog, and I’m driving and I see someone walk their dog, and I go Dogs, this community loves dogs, and people love their dogs. In The Mint we had black and white photos of the regulars, and that was really cool, so we said no people, we’ll just do dogs. So we gave a shout out, said you bring in an 8 x 10 black and white, we’ll frame it and put it on the wall. So now we have people that also request a certain booth number (laughing) because they have to have dinner by their dog! It’s great.
We’ve been really lucky with our staff, also. I would say at least half our staff has been here from Day 1, so we have very little turn over, which is huge, especially in this town.
AR: What makes Open Range unique in Bozeman? What do you offer that other places don’t?
JB: Well, I think we are the only truly dedicated Steakhouse, and not only steaks, but chops, and other regional meat specialties. We have Bison on our menu, and it’s kind of our focus. When we can, we try to buy from Montana producers.
MB: I know everyone tries to pride themselves on local, and we do too, but in Montana that can be really difficult sometimes, so a lot of times we’ll focus on regional instead. If I can’t get a certain product here, maybe I can get it in Idaho or Wyoming. That’s our big push, local as much as we can, and we can’t we go regional.
JB: And that’s kind of the thrust of our whole menu, it’s regional. It’s the kind of thing that when people come here from somewhere else, they really like.
MB: They feel like they get a Montana experience. A number of people come in and say, “So-and-so told us we have to try Open Range.” I think it’s because they want this Montana experience.
AR: What do you want people to experience here when they step through your doors?
MB: Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t want them to experience, I don’t want any pretentiousness. We are labeled Fine Dining; I don’t really like that, we are more casual than that. I want people to walk in here, and if they have a two- or three-year-old, or a six-month-old, I want them to feel comfortable. I want anyone to walk through this door and feel good. What do you want Mr. Bentley?
JB: I hate pretentious food. That’s the whole thing, I hate it.
MB: With him it’s food; with me its the staff and the aesthetics and all of that.
JB: We have standards, and we are fortunate enough to have a staff that realizes that, and when you do 200 dinners a night, you hope that every one of them is equally as good as the other. Once in a while something slips through the cracks and when that happens, we totally take care of it. People are entitled to a great experience. That’s why we’re not trying to be James Beard award winners, I don’t want anyone to leave hungry. We’re here in the middle of Montana; we’re not on the upper east side of New York, we don’t need to do that kind of food.
AR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?
JB: It’s a great town. I mean, it’s changing, but there is still a basic element of small-town affability and hospitality. I can’t imagine living anywhere else; it’s a great place.
MB: I’ve been here since 1976. I quite honestly don’t mind the growth, I’m not one of those ‘Go back to California’ people; I’m just not. I think it has a lot of charm. Do we have more traffic? Yes. Do we have parking problems? Yes. It’s inevitable, and the beauty is that we’re growing and we have grown. I think the majority of the people who live here really want to be here. I think they’ve made a conscious choice to be here, and I think that that makes a great community.
AR: What’s your most popular dish?
MB: Right now, the Bison Tomahawk.
JB: It’s a Bison Ribeye that’s been Frenched. By Frenching, they trim it down to the bone, and you just see the bone.
MB: When our servers bring one out, all heads [turn to check it out].
AR: Do you have anything coming up that you would like our readers to know about?
MB: We are finalizing our Valentine’s Day menu, and that will be REALLY good. Jason, our GM, is working on new wine pairings as well.
If you love steak, chops, and bison, every day is Valentine’s Day at Open Range. The Bentleys bring decades of experience to the table and consistently serve up delicious regional fare. If you are looking for a genuine Montana steakhouse that specializes in meat, look no further than Main Street’s Open Range.