Featured Bozemanite: Jim Eberhard

Liz Krause Williams

Craft pizza and craft beer—that’s what you get at Bridger Brewing on 11th Avenue across from the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Rarely do you find an establishment that creates—from scratch—equally indulgent food and drink. Bridger Brewing is that place.

Open for only a year, Bridger Brewing’s handcrafted beers are already winning awards. Scrumptious quality doesn’t stop with a pint. Their artisan-style pizzas are unreal. Locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. Creative pairings. The menu boasts bison pepperoni, wild mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella.

In the made-from-scratch marinara sauce hides a tight family bond that shaped the life of Jim Eberhard, co-owner of Bridger Brewing.

The kitchen at Bridger Brewing is open so guests can peek at the magic happening inside. Every time Eberhard glances up to check the pace of the dining room, he looks past a framed picture perched on the ledge. In it, Rose Arlotti, Eberhard’s maternal grandmother, sits smiling.

Eberhard’s grandparents were the first generation of an Italian immigrant family to grow up in the United States. Eberhard developed a love of great food and thoughtful cooking from the Italian dishes made by his mother and grandmother. From the edge of the countertop, Eberhard learned about selflessness, unconditional love, and boundless generosity. And—of course—how to make pizza.

Eberhard was born in Los Angeles. His father developed real estate and his mother gracefully raised three boys. One of Eberhard’s greatest joys is the eternal closeness of his family. His grandparents lived in an adjoining home much of his youth. Their influence on Eberhard’s life is visible today.

Trout fishing was Eberhard’s grandfather’s greatest passion—and he was an excellent spin fisherman. As a little boy, Eberhard followed his grandfather up and down the Owen’s River in southeastern California. Fishing came naturally to him. It was in his blood.

From river banks and boat gunnels, Eberhard learned many truths from his grandfather: Know your principles and live by them. Even when you have to go home without the biggest fish, never dismiss your principles. Never feel guilty for doing what you love. Play more. In fact, do it now instead of waiting to do it “someday.”

While Eberhard’s grandparents were setting into motion what would later become a 23-year fishing guide career followed by pizza chef and owner of a Brewery, his parents were instilling a fundamental trait that would direct every major life decision. How? By taking him to Montana, of course.

From the time Eberhard was two or three years old until he graduated high school, every year the family loaded up in an Airstream and headed to Montana. Year after year, they spent weeks fishing Taylor Creek and the Gallatin River from Nine Quarter Circle Ranch south of Big Sky. The Gallatin canyon has been Eberhard’s summer home his entire life. His parents loved the wildness of Montana. They encouraged the quickly developing obsession with wilderness growing in Eberhard.

When Eberhard was nine, the family moved to the suburbs of Chicago but they continued their yearly pilgrimage to the Gallatin Valley, often with his grandparents. By the time he graduated high school he was scheming for ways to make a career out of Montana. He had three “suburban buddies” with a similar drive. Unbeknownst to their parents, the four boys—on the verge of adulthood—started planning an expedition deep into Canada.

For three years, they planned. They were scattered around attending college – Eberhard pursing wildlife biology studies at Humboldt State in California. But they stayed in regular contact and met annually for more detailed preparation. Each saved money until they had enough to buy all their provisions, including a Suburban named the “Tundra Buggie,” a trailer and three canoes, and all the fixings for an 800 mile trip.

The team added two more members to make six. Each boy had personal responsibility to master a skill that would benefit the team. Eberhard took EMT training. Another boy did wilderness first aid training. They understood the potential danger.

At 20 years old, the boys set out across Saskatchewan and Manitoba up to Baker Lake which puddles near the same latitude as the Northwestern Passages. In sixty-five days, they traveled through five watersheds. No trails. No civilization. At one point, they made an eighteen mile portage across tundra.

They saw wolves, caribou, musk ox, and the beauties only seen when the sun hardly sets. Their planning was exquisite. Food perfectly rationed. Timing and progress was nearly flawless. This type of adventure is something men do. An undeniable rite of passage, the boys returned as men.

Not long after the tundra expedition, Eberhard was applying for fishing guide jobs in Montana. The Rivers Edge in Bozeman snagged him on a line.

Eberhard said, “When I moved to Montana, I learned you can get paid to do the things you love to do.”

And so he did. He spent the next twenty-three years guiding fishing trips for the Rivers Edge. In the mid-90s, longing for deeper wilderness, Eberhard took a job guiding in Alaska on the Togiak and Meshik Rivers spending summers there and the three other seasons in Bozeman. He lived on the rivers in “out camps,” with guests flying to him daily for guided trips.

Living on a river in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness was pure bliss for Eberhard. It was during this blissful period that he met Linda Cencer. She worked for the same lodge, but at their main camp. Their connection was immediate. Fate—with its little tricks—helped Eberhard meet a Bozeman lady in Alaska.
This year the two celebrate twenty years of shared life, partnership, and deep love. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with them. This is what I noticed: when together, there’s a gracefulness that settles around them.
 Sometimes the best way to tell someone’s story is to let you—the reader—in on the behind-the-scenes part of the interview. This is one of those cases. Eberhard was a little shy about sharing his story; he’s a very humble man. He had no agenda in what I wrote.

But there was one point that was important to him: “Make sure to say how much I love Linda.” The way he said it—with boyish, puppy-love enthusiasm that is rarely seen after twenty years with someone—it melted my heart a little. To say he loves her doesn’t seem adequate. Jim adores Linda with love that pours from his heart.
Another behind-the-scenes detail I feel compelled to share…as I was leaving the brewery after our interview, one of his employees ran after me.

“Wait! I have to tell you some things Jim would never say himself.”

He went on to tell me he’s never known anyone as kind and generous as Eberhard. He told me stories about Eberhard helping out other employees who were in tricky personal situations. Selfless, unexpected acts of kindness. He raved about the type of manager Eberhard is.

As the employee went on and on, I thought back to my interview with Eberhard. When we discussed the brewery, he didn’t talk much about the pizza and beer. He talked about his staff. How great they were; how he wants to help them pursue their individual dreams.

Eberhard said of starting the brewery, “I had no idea how much joy I’d get from my staff.”

In reflection, I think he meant to say, “I had no idea how much I’d love my staff.” And the feeling is mutual.

It’s uncommon to find clear and distinct evidence of the things that shape who we become. Many relationships, situations, and moments build our character and direct our future. But, for Eberhard, very clear lines exist.

His grandfather uncovered a love for fishing and instilled a belief that pursing your passions is more important than pursuing money. His grandmother and mother developed his palette for cooking. His mom and dad unveiled a deep desire for wilderness and a dedication to Montana. All of them role modeled kindness and compassion. And that is just a short list. These four people unknowingly carved a gem of a person who is admired, respected, and loved by all those who know him.

Often toting a full beard and baseball cap, Eberhard doesn’t exactly move through the Bridger Brewing kitchen. It’s more like a flow. Eberhard flows through the kitchen, from the industrial mixer to the prep line and the oven. Eberhard has a calming pace. Like the whispered melody of a rod casting a quiet line. Like the peaceful ripple of a stream. Eberhard is the gentle ebb and flow energy of a Montana river.

Jim Eberhard makes pizza and fishes the rivers in the Gallatin Valley with the love of his life, Linda. Linda is co-owner of the brewery, along with Dave Breck and some behind the scenes geniuses. Stop by Bridger Brewing for a sample of his family-inspired pizza and to discuss which flies are working.    

Liz Krause Williams is a professional story teller. She helps job seekers and brand-building professionals move forward with confidence as they pursue career ambitions. Learn more at www.occupationinnovation.com and follow Liz at facebook.com/occupationinnovation.

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