MacKenzie River Pizza Co. Turns 20

By Beacon Staff

MacKenzie River Pizza Company turns 20 this year, and instead of cutting up a birthday cake to celebrate, it is slicing up a $20,000 pie.

To mark its 20th anniversary, MacKenzie River Pizza will give $20,000 to various Montana charities. And, to remain true to the idea that their company is built around and for the communities it serves, patrons can vote to determine how big of a slice their local charities receive.

MacKenzie River Pizza has its roots in Bozeman, where the first restaurant opened in 1993. Since then, it has become part of the Glacier Restaurant Group in Whitefish.

In 2007, the restaurant company moved its headquarters to Whitefish. And in the 20 years since it first opened, MacKenzie River Pizza has grown to include 17 restaurants, with two more planned for this year.

There are 11 MacKenzie River Pizza Company restaurants in Montana, and the company’s out-of-state restaurants, called MacKenzie River Pizza, Grill & Pub, are located in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Bismarck N.D., and Carmel and Indianapolis, Indiana. Two more are on the way in Idaho Falls and Pocatello, Idaho.

Six of the restaurants are locally owned and operated franchises.

Such expansion has marked success for the homegrown restaurant chain, and with 20 years of business to celebrate, MacKenzie River Pizza wanted to give back to the communities that have supported the company’s endeavors.

“We’ve been engrained in our Montana community,” Erica Coffman, marketing director at Glacier Restaurant Group, said. “The community has always been a huge thing for us and our culture and our brand.”

Last November and December, the company wanted to figure out a way to celebrate its anniversary in a way that matches its style and brand, Coffman said.

“How are we going to thank our community for letting us have our business here?” she asked.

The answer was the $20k for 20 Years promotion, which gives money back instead of spending it on a major ad campaign, she said. Diners at the restaurants can cast their votes for one of the seven nonprofits selected to share the money, or vote online at 20for20.mackenzieriverpizza.com. The results are updated frequently, and the more votes a nonprofit gets, the bigger its share.

The Flathead’s nonprofit – representing the restaurants in Kalispell and Whitefish – is the Flathead Community Health Center. As of June 10, it had 14 percent of the $20,000, with more than 31,600 votes.

Other nonprofits involved include Big Sky Youth Empowerment out of Bozeman; Chase Hawks Memorial Association in Billings; Eagle Mount Great Falls; the Jadyn Fred Foundation of Missoula; Mariah’s Challenge in Butte; and Ryan United in Helena.

A hot skillet of artichoke dip and a pizza roll out of the oven at Mackenzie River Pizza Co. in Whitefish. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Voting ends June 16, Coffman said, and the company has already tallied more than 220,000 votes.

“People are really, really receiving it well,” she said. “It just feels really good to be able to give back instead of just going and spending money on ourselves.”

Coffman believes that attitude is part of the reason MacKenzie River Pizza has flourished in the past two decades. Austin Baumgarten, the general manager of the Kalispell restaurant, said his 11 years with the company have been highlighted with the people he works for and with.
“I respect the people I work for; they push us really hard but they treat us darn well,” Baumgarten said.

Starting as a pizza delivery driver when he was 19, Baumgarten moved his way up to the kitchen and serving, and eventually into management. There is room for advancement at MacKenzie River Pizza, he said, and the company empowers its employees to make the restaurants better.

Clare Goble, the general manager at the Whitefish restaurant, started waiting tables at the Bozeman restaurant more than 10 years ago to pay her way through college. She graduated with a teaching degree, but saw opportunity with the pizza company.

“It’s been a great opportunity to stay with the Montana company that I love and then move back to my hometown,” Goble said. “I’m very honored that I can stick with the company.”

For more information on the $20k for 20 Years campaign, visit 20for20.mackenzieriverpizza.com.

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