By David Reese
Ted Turner, founder of CNN and one of Montana's largest private landowners, has entered the restaurant business in Montana.
After opening 57 Ted's Montana Grill restaurants in 19 states, the first one opened in Montana this May.
The restaurant serves up a range of comfort food, from steaks and burgers to fish and seafood. But perhaps the signature item on the menu is buffalo, which is harvested from Turner's Montana buffalo ranches. "We try to recapture the spirit of the old west," Turner said. "We're trying hard to be the very best in the casual dining sector."
For CEO George McKerrow, there was a reason that it took a while for his company to open a Ted's Montana Grill in Montana.
"It's a new beginning," he said on opening night of the restaurant. "We've always wanted to be here, and I think there's a need to be here, but business is business. If you don't make good business decisions, you'll never be successful enough to have a restaurant in Bozeman, Montana.
"I think it's a pinnacle of our success that we were able to go out, build 57 restaurants throughout the United States, and then come here, at the right place at the right time."
Ted's in Bozeman is located in the historic Baxter Hotel building downtown. The restaurant opened to two solid nights of packed house, to VIPs who were treated to a free dinner in order to give the wait and cook staff some training. "I hope we're highly successful here, but I won't know until we earn the respect of the people here," McKerrow added. "I hope this is the beginning of a new resurgence into small-town America. I'd much rather be here than a crowded street in urban America."
Turner, a social activist who said he's working to end nuclear weapons in the world, reduce global warming and overpopulation, brings environmental consciousness to his restaurant business. The restaurant uses only materials that are recyclable, and saves energy with low-voltage lighting. They even make their own recyclable paper straws.
"We were ahead of the curve in environmental sustainability," McKerrow said. "The restaurant industry has to step up and change its behavior."
Turner began the national restaurant chain as a way to market the bison that he raises on ranches throughout southwest Montana. "Having a restaurant chain seemed like the best way to do it," Turner said. "Plus, I'd been laid off and I didn't think anyone was going to hire someone 65 years old."
"I wish I could be out here all the time but I can't," Turner said. "I have to work back east."
Although the Bozeman restaurant market is fairly crowded already, McKerrow sees room for growth and success in Montana. "Eventually we'd like to expand into other markets, like Billings," he said. "But first we have to win the hearts of the people in the Bozeman community. If we deliver on our promise of great food and great service, we'll be highly successful." •