Pizza & Beer Persevere Through Pandemic
Calling in a to-go order from Bridger Brewing was a strange experience. Because typically, my move is to sit at the corner of the bar, drink three pints over a few hours with my nose buried in my laptop or book and then order some pizza to take home. And that is just the protocol for when I don’t catch lunch in time for a Jurassic slice and salad. It’s easily my favorite lunch around campus. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. This time, when I called in a pie for pick-up and arrived with a bag full of growlers, standing where I normally sit, the peculiarity of our present situation hit me once again. A bar with no barstools is a strange sight indeed.
Bridger Brewing has been a place of comfort and creativity for me over the last two years of my undergrad. Walking from campus to my truck parked at the stadium, I would be lured in with the smell of fresh pizza and dreams of a cold pint. I could always find a bar stool to occupy for a few hours while I attempted some homework and got distracted with side conversations. I prefer the buzz of happy people over the stagnant silence of the library. If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taken away from me, it’s the simple pleasure of sitting at a bar enjoying a drink by myself. Being at a table with five empty chairs feels quite a bit more isolated for some reason. But we adapt, and as I was sitting there, obviously unaccompanied, I realized that I have never actually sat anywhere other than the bar. So, I admired the 3-tiled sunset image of the Bridger Range I had never noticed before, sipped a J.A.H. IPA and crushed a slice of cheese and house salad. Times may change, but pizza and beer stay the same.
Owner and general manager, David Breck was kind enough to take some time to talk with me and dish up some details about Bridger Brewing.
MH: How have you dealt with the Shelter-in-place mandate?
DB: We pivoted to takeout pizza and growlers right from the get-go, and we are pretty fortunate having pizza as our food because it lends itself to travel well. Growlers take a while with inspection and sanitation; it’s about 3-4 minutes per growler so everyone just has to slow down and take a breath. Even our staff, I’ve had to tell—don’t be in a hurry—our business is casual but professional and we are usually moving super-fast making sure people get what they need. We’re still doing that, but we’re prioritizing safety and sanitation, which slows things down a bit. We appreciate all the patience. People have been so supportive: buying gift cards, getting takeout, tipping generously, and it’s a story that I’ve heard from other restaurants as well. Obviously, we’re dealing with a crisis, but it’s also a time that has been bringing out the best in people and we have definitely been feeling that love.
MH: How was Bridger Brewing conceptualized?
DB: It went through a lot of phases. We looked at property downtown, places in Four Corners, really all over Bozeman. We thought about a small taproom, but it became apparent how important it would be to have a taproom that offered really good food as well as beer. There is such a creative outlet on the beer side of things, it made sense to explore the creative culinary side as well. We were really fortunate to get this property too; there is a fun, creative energy that comes with being next to the university.
MH: What makes Bridger Brewing unique in the Bozeman food scene?
DB: We make everything from scratch. Our dough is made by hand every day. Veggies are cut, the cheese is grated, and the Caesar is made with raw eggs and anchovies; everything happens in-house. We source all our meat locally and have our own spice mixes in the back so we make all our own sausages and the bison pepperoni which is pressed and torn rather than being cookie-cutter rounds. All of the meats are placed on pies raw then bake to ensure extra meaty flavor. And the crew in the back is super creative. My partner, Jim, who runs the kitchen, gives them the authority to create specials and have a lot of input. It allows us to have a limited but focused and well-executed menu with changing daily specials.
MH: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?
DB: Have fun and enjoy themselves! It’s their party: have some laughs, great food, and wonderful beers. It’s definitely a community gathering place. We have a lot of regulars, who all seem to know each other now, so there’s always great conversation at the bar and tables. I always see (well, not now of course) but people moving from the bar to tables to talk and moving back. It really is a communal atmosphere.
MH: What items do your regulars keep coming back for?
DB: Mad Mile Cream Ale and Antilogy Black IPA for beers. The Elote pizza with the elote cream sauce on top is very popular. Caesar and house salads. People love the house salad dressing; it’s actually Jim’s mom’s recipe.
MH: What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Bozeman community?
DB: As an engineering consultant before this, I didn’t feel like I really got to be part of the community professionally. That was a big driving force in opening a brewery: we could be a part of the community—supporting it while it supports us. This is such a tight-knight community with a lot of great non-profits to back and local artists to feature. And especially in the summertime, we try to source as many ingredients as we can from local farms. These connections make business better for everyone and add to the strength of this community.
MH: Do you have anything upcoming that you want readers to know about?
DB: Three Forks is the next phase, and we’re working towards it. We bought a piece of property, 248 acres, right at the corner of I-90 and 287. There will be a production brewery so we will can and package our product. There will be another pub with a nice big patio looking out at the Bridger Mountains and a live music venue. We are hoping for Spring 2021.
As far as current events, we’re holding off for a while. With COVID, we aren’t doing “Music and Muscles” which is very popular, but we’ll bring back the muscles and weekly specials as soon as we can. We haven’t decided on music yet; it doesn’t feel right to try and draw a crowd right now. We’re happy to have tables but we are definitely taking things slowly and keeping everything spread out. It’s mellow business for the time being.
MH: How do you feel about winning people’s choice best pizza for four years in a row?!
DB: We are really proud of that. Our staff works very hard; it truly is a labor of love. So, it’s really nice to be appreciated. Thanks for showing us the love Bozeman!
Since I’m now an MSU graduate, I won’t be tempted by the smells of Bridger Brewing every day. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be on my mind. Thank you, Bridger Brewing for being such a rock in the Gallatin Valley community and keeping me sane through college. I look forward to occupying a barstool for too long in the future. Until then, cheers from afar!