WHITEFISH – When Brad Ridgeway started with MacKenzie River Pizza Company in 1995, he was a dishwasher and a delivery driver on the front lines of the pizza-slinging business.
The company was a fledgling chain, started in Bozeman in 1993, and its second location popped up in Missoula, where Ridgeway began what would become his career.
His office these days as the president of the Glacier Restaurant Group – the parent company that owns MacKenzie River along with several other restaurants and chains – is full of light and framed pieces of the company’s successes over the years, but there are growing pains.
GRG takes up two floors of an office park here, and Ridgeway and the other 12 corporate employees there are ready for a change.
“We’ve just outgrown this space,” he said in an interview last week.
A recent spate of expansions and the addition of a restaurant chain in the Midwest has prompted GRG to build a new headquarters building in Whitefish, which will provide office space for double the number of corporate employees.
The natural growth of the business is not unlike Ridgeway’s rise up the ladder – it’s taken years, and it’s all happened at a sustainable pace after learning lessons along the way.
“We have a lot of pride in the fact that we’re growing this company organically,” he said.
The company that started with MacKenzie River is now home to five other businesses, including Craggy Range Bar and Grill in Whitefish; Ciao Mambo in Whitefish, Missoula, and Billings; Latitude 48 in Whitefish; Chalkboard, located in Healdsburg, California, in the Sonoma wine country; and the recently acquired Max and Erma’s chain, founded in Columbus, Ohio.
Max and Erma’s is a small chain of restaurants in the Midwest, Ridgeway said, with about 70 locations. It formerly belonged to American Blue Ribbon Holdings, which Ridgeway described as a billion-dollar restaurant group.
Bringing the chain to GRG is a win-win for both the chain and the group, he said, because GRG will have more time to focus on revitalizing the chain given its smaller stature compared to ABRH.
“It just fit better with a group like us,” Ridgeway said. “We’re not going to expand it.”
Max and Erma’s also gives GRG an opportunity to continue its expansion eastward with MacKenzie River Pizza Grill and Pubs, which serve an array of salads, burgers, flatbreads, tacos, and more.
There are 23 Mackenzie Rivers located in Montana, Idaho, Washington, the Dakotas, and Indiana. Ridgeway said that through buying Max and Erma’s, GRG will be able to convert a couple of those restaurants into MacKenzie River locations.
“It’ll get us more name recognition for sure,” he said. “We’re a rapidly growing company and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Ridgeway said the company intends on adding two locations in Nebraska and one in Iowa as well.
Closer to home, GRG has temporarily closed the Craggy Range Bar and Grill for renovations, which Ridgeway said will make the restaurant and bar feel more like a connected space. They’ve relocated the bar and removed some walls to open it up, he said.
Crews should wrap up work in time for Craggy to reopen by the first week in June, he said, ensuring it will catch the summer crowd.
The new headquarters should be ready into move in by Thanksgiving, Ridgeway said, and all the new corporate staff will be in the same place. Many of those staff have much of the same story Ridgeway does, he said, with humble beginnings in the lowest ranks of the business before steadily working their way up.
“It’s not just my story,” Ridgeway said.
For more information, visit www.grgfood.com.
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