Montana Ale Works Restaurant

It’s not in the nature of paradise to remain undiscovered. For those living in great ski towns, adapting to increasingly busy conditions means a daily effort to balance livelihoods and lifestyles. It’s never been easy, particularly for those in the restaurant business.

My longtime friends and former US Ski Team racers Christin Cooper, an Olympic and World Championship medalist with 5 World Cup wins under her belt, and Mark Taché, who ranked as the top American on the 1987 World Pro Tour, are no exceptions. As Cooper explained it to me, “We wanted to bring the same ethos to our work as we did our play. To do it well and have fun.”

The couple co-founded their first venture, the Bozeman-based Mackenzie River Pizza Company in 1993. It evolved into a thriving regional chain, and they sold their interest to invest in the refurbishment of an old Northern Pacific Railroad freight building, transforming the space into the now-iconic Montana Ale Works, the highest volume, dinner-only establishment in the state.

True to their competitive natures, Cooper and Taché have worked hard over the years to maintain the restaurant’s high standards and core values amidst a rapidly growing world, and a local population that has tripled in the twenty-six years since they first started in the restaurant business.

Montana Ale Works Restaurant
Montana Ale Works Restaurant Owner Christin Cooper

“Given the increased competition from new restaurant openings and a tightening labor market, we’ve had to adjust our business model to accommodate the new challenges,” says Taché.

And adjust they did. Having undertaken a million-dollar renovation of the Ale Works’ kitchen in 2016, the management team has followed up with a holistic overhaul that speaks to their longtime interest in the environment, complete with a kitchen composting program and rooftop solar installation.

Walking into the sprawling 8,000-square-foot space today, it’s impossible not to be struck by the bold 2018 bar renovation, all gleaming steel and wood. Which, when you’re serving over forty beers and a vast mixed drink menu to a capacity of three hundred and seventy-four, all needs to work well while still looking and feeling killer.

“It’s about good ergonomics for our team, a welcoming environment for our guests, and being as energy efficient as we can for our community,” explains Taché who, along with Cooper and their operational partners, Sean Faris and Roth Jordan, are always strategizing ways to improve their menus, their atmosphere, and their service.

The results of their dedicated and ongoing efforts are tangible, starting with the menu. The Montana Grain Bowl salad, a vegan cornucopia in a land of carnivores, is piled high with lentils, roasted beets, feta, arugula and other fresh ingredients from local artisanal farmers. Personally, I could live on nothing but the bison potstickers with sweet mango sauce – full-flavored, Northern Plains-sourced, served with a tangy Asian slaw. The pasture-raised pork chops are also local and always primo, as are the Angus and Wagyu burgers from beef that probably hasn’t traveled as far as you have to get there.

The strong locavore emphasis embodies the core of the restaurant’s philosophy on several levels. From the food to the booze, including the best regional craft beers, whiskeys, vodkas and more, Ale Works’ farm-fresh, naturally raised, high-quality ingredients define the restaurant’s casually upscale signature creations. While buying and partnering locally saves on food miles and environmental impact, and directly supports the community.

As a team, the staff and owners consider themselves “more than just a restaurant and bar, but a vibrant part of the fabric of Bozeman,” says Cooper, adding the team is committed to generously giving back, including to their employees. With Bozeman lifestyles centered around skiing, boarding, hiking, climbing, cycling and river sports, Ale Works makes an effort to afford its hard-working staff of over one hundred and fifty the time to do what keeps them in Montana.

Montana Ale Works Restaurant
Montana Ale Works Restaurant Bar

“The Chart House model, as a dinner-only restaurant started by surfers and skiers, always appealed to us,” says Taché about a chain originally launched in his hometown of Aspen. “It leaves time in the day for employees to get their stoke on, and then share it with the customers.”

That helps explain why Ale Works not only continues to dominate Bozeman’s big annual online dining survey, topping seven major categories for the last ten years, including best restaurant, bar, and restaurant service, but added three more honors to the list this year, including best dessert. All of which is truly the icing on the cake as they stay on top in a rapidly expanding market, keeping it fresh, innovative, and true to their ethos. With the whole team doing it well and still having fun.