In this exclusive Q&A, we learn about MacKenzie River Restaurants from James Blystone, VP of Franchising for Glacier Restaurant Group.
Franchise Chatter (FC): How did MacKenzie River Restaurants get started?
James Blystone (JB): MacKenzie River is the flagship brand of Glacier Restaurant Group, based in
Whitefish, Montana. The first Mackenzie River Restaurant opened in downtown Bozeman, MT, in 1993, with the ambiance of the Rocky Mountains. Twenty-four years and more than a million pizzas later, MacKenzie River guests are greeted with a casual rustic atmosphere that depicts the heart and soul of the Rocky Mountains.
Many of the executives, like President Brad Ridgeway with more than 25 years of restaurant experience, have grown with the company. The executive team’s intimate knowledge of the business from every level of the company is one of the reasons why MacKenzie River is thriving today. They know what it takes to create a successful business.
FC: What are the criteria for choosing franchisees?
JB: We don’t choose our franchise partners as they choose Glacier Restaurant Group and the MacKenzie River brand. Once a potential franchisee has contacted us with an interest in opening a MacKenzie River Restaurant, we begin our approval process.
While financials are critical and we require our partner to have $350,000 in liquid assets, we also spend quite a bit of time getting to know our franchisees and their family. In staying true to our culture, we want to make sure our family, our franchisee, and their family truly can “Have It All.”
FC: How much does it take to open the doors?
JB: To open a MacKenzie River Restaurant, the total estimated initial investment can be anywhere between $800,000 and $2 million or more dependent on location selection and build-out costs. We have a dedicated project management team to help our franchisees through this process who are experts at embracing complexity and strive to deliver simplicity.
FC: How many locations do you have nationwide?
JB: MacKenzie River just opened new locations in Las Vegas, NV, Crestview Hills, KY, and Beavercreek, OH. This Montana-based restaurant chain has 27 locations in nine states with more locations to come – 12 are franchise locations and 15 corporate. These include Montana, Idaho, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Nevada.
FC: What sets you apart from your competitors?
JB: Our customers often say, “I wish I could bring a bit of Montana home with me.” With MacKenzie River, we’ve created a casual rustic ambiance capturing the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. This includes rows of aspen trees and antique sportsman finishes and memorabilia, plus felled lumber furnishings that create a relaxed dining experience. You walk in and immediately feel the relaxation of the Montana culture.
We are known for the Best Pie From The Big Sky®. The communities we serve love our made-from-scratch recipes and the fresh ingredients we use for our gourmet pizzas, juicy burgers, fish tacos and other offerings. We are also excited about our beverage offerings including specialty cocktails, craft beers and our exclusive Driftboat™ Amber Ale, brewed by Great Northern Brewing Company out of Whitefish, Montana.
Our passion for our employees and partners is second to none. We believe in the “Have It All” experience across the board where we work hard to ensure a balance of work, family and fun. We provide the tools to make daily operations easier so that our franchisees can work with customers and staff creating that people and community-first attitude.
FC: Is there support beyond initial training?
JB: Training with MacKenzie River is one of our hallmarks. We not only provide the training and tools to get franchisees started, but also provide continuous training to ensure franchisees stay ahead of trends and the business. We view our franchisees as family, and as such, we nurture them throughout their franchise term.
FC: How much input do franchisees have in the marketing, advertising and operations tools?
JB: Getting input from franchisees is essential to the MacKenzie River success plan. Franchisees know their markets best and MacKenzie River wants to empower them for success. Franchisees are continually part of the process, asked for input often, and have recommend ideas that are implemented company-wide. Feedback, transparency, and continuous improvement make everyone more successful.
FC: What is the internal culture at MacKenzie River?
JB: MacKenzie River’s “Have It All “ mantra is something that franchise owners and employees live everyday. That means creating a work/life balance so that everyone has a quality life along the way. All we ask is that everyone comes to work with great energy to do the things you love. You have to live the culture of passion and energy while walking the talk.
FC: What do some of your current franchisees say about MacKenzie River?
JB: Colin Higgins, franchisee owner of five MacKenzie River locations, says, “MacKenzie River is all about passion and connecting with our customers. I recruit and look for passion everyday. You can’t teach people passion; but you can train them for different restaurant positions. You either have it or you don’t. When you hire passionate people, the rest falls in place and our customers notice.
“I owe a lot to the company as they have helped shape my career, and frankly, my life. Being a franchisee is a humbling experience and truly rewarding. You get to be who you want to be and learn a ton of jobs – every day is different,” Higgins said.