Backcountry Burger Bar
by Angie Ripple
On a chilly afternoon, I was greeted by a warm smile and seated at a cozy booth as I waited to speak to Backcountry Burger Bar’s proprietor Albert McDonald. Not long before, I had been in for dinner with my kids and a couple friends to enjoy the great food and service BCBB has been dishing out since it opened. I added traditional poutine to my burger order that evening, and I didn’t share a bite! Albert and I caught up and did this interview twice for your reading pleasure.
Angie Ripple: How was Backcountry Burger Bar conceptualized?
Albert McDonald: Originally, the idea of the craft burger bar in downtown Bozeman was the brainchild of my former business partner Pete Hendrickson, Pedro. It’s something that, after our business partnership came to an end, I just took it and ran with it. My wife and I went on a burger road trip with our kids; we went to see two restaurants that we really had the utmost respect for in the burger world, which were Hopdoddy based out of Austin, TX and Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. So, for Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, we went to New York City and Hopdoddy is actually in Denver now. There are worse things to do than pack up the kids and go eat cheese burgers around America! And, the idea was that Montana is beef country. There are two crops that grow exceptionally well in Montana - one is cows and the other is root vegetables. There are more cows than people in Montana, so it make a lot of sense to do burgers and fries with beef that is grown and processed here in Montana, potatoes that are grown here in the Gallatin Valley and just treat them with as much care and technique as possible.
AR: What makes Backcountry Burger Bar unique in the Bozeman food scene?
AM: The attention to detail that we have with what we do. You can get a hundred burgers in Bozeman, but I can’t think of another place in town that does it as vertically integrated as we do. Our buns, for example, are made fresh everyday in the restaurant. The flour that we use in our bun is Montana wheat that is grown in Northern Montana and ground into flour in Great Falls and delivered to us here in Bozeman. The beef is all Montana beef, and the bison is all Montana bison; it never leaves the state. It’s processed at the Ranchlands Processing in Butte and then it comes to our restaurant. Our lettuce and tomatoes for the burgers come from Streamline Farms in Three Forks. Our potatoes come from the Gallatin Valley, and we punch them ourselves. The technique we use is something from my own childhood experience with Fish and Chip chops from the Canadian border, and the way that you properly cook chips. What makes us different is that we have a clear vision for the best way we know of to make burgers and fries.
AR: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
AM: A warm, welcoming environment. At our core we want to be a gathering place here in our community where the moment you come in you feel sincerely welcomed, and then we want to serve you fantastic food with good value. We call it food for the 75%. There is about 25% of our community that, just due to socioeconomic factors, eating out is a rare treat if it happens at all. But, for the majority of our community here in Bozeman, people like to eat out, but we want to have a high quality product that you feel good about eating, that you feel good after you’ve eaten it, that tastes fantastic, that you can trust the ingredients and that you feel has good value. We feel that we are charging a reasonable price for the product we are putting in front of you.
AR: What item do your regulars keep coming back for?
AM: One of the things that’s fun about our concept is the diversity of what you can get here. My wife’s addition to our menu is the Kim chi Burger, and that’s I-Ho’s Kim chi and a fried egg, and it’s fantastic, but our most popular burger is our simplest food and I think that speaks volumes to our getting the base product right; it’s the Backcountry Burger and our hand-punched fries.
AR: What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Bozeman community?
AM: I knew the first time I visited Bozeman that I wanted to move here; within three hours of being here, I knew. I immediately recognized that it was different. Montana is an incredible place period. We are all fortunate to live here, and the Gallatin Valley is just truly unique. I came up here from Colorado where I was going to Business School, and I knew I wanted to be in the mountains. I knew I wanted to be in the restaurant business, and I was looking for a place to be a ski bum, and I wanted a community that wasn’t at odds with itself. What I experienced in Colorado was resort-based mountain communities with locals who were extremely proud to be a local. Everything was based on how long you’d been there or you were a tourist that everybody makes money off of. I could feel the confrontational aspect of the two, and when I came to Bozeman it was immediately apparent that it was different here. The community complements itself, the area complements the community, the mountains ring the valley, and it is so easy to get out into the forest here. There are so many different experiences here, mountain biking, skiing, fly fishing, the University, the technology jobs that weren’t here when I first arrived, so many different things we can enjoy. We welcome the incredibly healthy amount of tourism, we’re not at odds with the tourists, the community just works together. It’s a great place to raise a family, to be an entrepreneur, to have a business, and we are very happy here.
AR: Do you have anything upcoming that you want readers to know about?
AM: Nothing new. Our goal is just to keep executing and to do it better every day!
AR: You were recently voted Bozeman’s Choice #1 Burger. What does being voted Bozeman’s Choice mean to you guys?
AM: It is the greatest honor we have received as a business. You start out a business with a vision for what you want to do with your food product and ours was to have a truly unique approach to what is extremely available here in our Bozeman market. There are burgers on every menu in pretty much every restaurant you go into in this town. To be able to achieve the recognition that our vision for what we could do on a scratch basis, and the hard work that our chef Cody Cefon puts in in the kitchen, creates what is viewed by the voters as the best burger in Bozeman as viewed by the voters in this poll is incredibly fulfilling. Thanks Bozeman!
Be sure to put Backcountry Burger Bar on your 2020 to-do list. You’ll leave with a full belly and a smile.