Building a Restaurant to Meet Community Needs

The First Avenue Taphouse had its grand opening at the end of October and offers live music, sports and a family-friendly atmosphere

By Maggie Dresser
Dustin Gustafson pours pints at The First Avenue Taphouse in downtown Kalispell on Oct. 30, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A performance stage, multiple televisions and an evolving menu are among the features that downtown Kalispell’s newest bar and restaurant is offering to accommodate the community’s needs.

First Avenue Taphouse co-owner Francois Zanni has been unofficially reaching out to local residents to survey their preferences. Many responses involved sports and music, so that’s what he added once he started renovations at his new restaurant, located in the former 406 Bar and Grill.

“It was overwhelmingly music — everybody wants live music,” Zanni said. “That’s why we’ve got a big live music schedule to start.”

Zanni owns the restaurant with Christopher Languein. They also own the Bigfork Inn, renamed Traditions at the Bigfork Inn.

At the Taphouse, Zanni built a stage where he plans to host live music four nights a week from Wednesday to Saturday. During the first week in business in October, the restaurant hosted Brent Jameson, Billy Angel and Tommy Edwards.

The need for a sports-viewing venue prompted Zanni to install a projector screen along with multiple televisions in both the bar and restaurant. He says the Cat-Griz rivalry college football game will be shown on Saturday, Nov. 23.

“I opened this mostly to create something the community needed and wanted,” Zanni said.

In addition to the entertainment at the Taphouse, Zanni will progressively adapt the menu to what his customers want. The wood-fired grill creates a flavorful burger, and Zanni plans to expand the burger options.

The Taphouse currently serves standard bar food, including nachos, wood-fired skewers and bratwursts and a kids’ menu. It also has a signature beef burger, the Ktown, and the menu will likely expand with more gourmet elk and bison burgers in the next few weeks.

The new, state-of-the-art, custom-built tap hailing from the East Coast pours 40 different beers, six types of wine and two local ciders. The bar also serves cocktails and liquor.

While the bar sits in a separate room on the west side of the building, the main restaurant has a different food-ordering concept than the previous restaurant, 406 Bar and Grill, had. The Taphouse doesn’t have servers. Zanni says it’s simpler for customers order their food at the counter and return to pick it up when it’s ready.

“It’s a concept you’re seeing more and more in Montana,” Zanni said.

While Zanni says it creates a simpler experience for the customer, it also helps with labor cost.

“For us, the advantage is labor cost and finding labor,” he said. The Taphouse currently needs about four staff members in the kitchen and at the counter on a given day, not including the bar.

“I don’t have servers anymore,” he said. “It gives me the advantage of better pricing because we don’t have to pay for the staff.”

Zanni also says it’s difficult to find staff in the valley. With this restaurant concept, he doesn’t struggle to find the adequate staff needed.

Since the grand opening on Friday, Oct. 25, Zanni says the Taphouse has seen a steady flow of customers, with beer as the biggest seller so far. He and Languein will continue to expand and evolve the bar and restaurant into what the customers want.

“It’s a little bit for everybody,” Zanni said.

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