For the last several years Home Ranch Bottoms, a barbecue restaurant well known to those who spend time up the North Fork of the Flathead River, has relied on a series of brightly painted signs to pull visitors off North Fork Road and into the gift shop or on to a bar stool.
“Cold beer,” one reads. “Turn here!” “Ice cream!” “BBQ!”
The signs are a relic of the past owner, and one of the things that new owners Dylan Baker and Heather Matthews, partners in life and business from Whitefish, plan to change in an effort to build the restaurant’s cultural and historical significance.
“We’re not trying to Disneyland-out the North Fork,” Baker said. “We’re going to change how it’s displayed, but we’re also going to clean it up a bit.”
Baker and Matthews took over the restaurant when it opened on July 1 in a turnkey operation. Matthews is also the owner of the North Fork Saloon a few miles down the road, next to the Polebridge Mercantile.
Baker said his vision for Home Ranch Bottoms includes adding more historical homestead equipment and educational resources to their large lot, so people can learn about the area’s history when they stop for food and drinks.
He said he saw it as a great opportunity to enhance people’s understanding of the North Fork’s historical roots while also drawing customers to their business.
“I’m not trying to make this a destination spot,” Matthews said. “It’s already a destination spot. We want to keep it what it is... The history is here.”
He also plans to offer free camping on the property, where he already offers free coffee every morning. He said the perk has added to the business’s reputation as popular stop for bike riders in the early morning.
He hoped the changes will make the facility more family friendly, and said he intended to add equipment that could entertain children while parents enjoy a meal, beer or some music.
“I want it historic,” Baker said. “I want implements for the kids to crawl around on.”
Baker plans to remain open through the winter to provide dinner to the few intrepid cross-country skiers who make it out to the business.
He doesn’t anticipate making huge changes to the menu. He said smoked meat, previously the restaurant’s calling card, continued to draw in many customers, so he has learned to smoke on a commercial scale to keep up with demand.
“It’s all about the smoked meat right now. The meat is what people come here for,” Baker said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In an effort to appeal to a wider swath of visitors, he also expanded the menu to include a couple vegetarian options, including a portabella burger.
So far, he said business has been better than he expected, and with lone holdover employee Jake Stevenson helping him out in the kitchen, bar and dining room, they have been able to service the demand.
“We’re doing great,” Baker said. “The numbers are beyond what we’ve expected.”
Baker acknowledged that the changes are significant, but he and Matthews said they bought the property because they hoped to honor a place, and life up the North Fork, that they love.
On the whole, he said the permanent residents up the North Fork had been fairly receptive to his ownership transition despite the fact that he doesn’t live in the area full time. He said he understood that any resistance to change is tied up in the same love for the North Fork that he has.
“The locals have been very receptive. They were all outsiders at some point,” Baker said. “It’s the Last Stand out here. There’s nowhere like it in Montana.”
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.