Big Sky’s bistro
By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – A small bistro tucked in the Westfork Meadows near Big Sky Town Center, By Word of Mouth (BYWOM) will celebrate 22 years in business this year. Located in the same building and operating for more than two decades, BYWOM has seemingly perfected what they do.
Step through the glass door and you just might feel time take a breath. BYWOM offers casual lighting, a song drifting through the air, candles, white plates, crisp napkins and a menu offering burgers, sushi, lamb, fondu and even pork osso buco.
Co-owner Pam Flach will seat guests at a table, all smiles, before serving neighboring diners their selections from the menu. Meanwhile, her husband, John Flach, is in the kitchen preparing items to cook or performing the finishing touches on a dish.
It is a familial atmosphere and, accompanied by the good food, it keeps people coming back. Pam takes pride in the menu, one that offers a taste for everyone. John routinely updates the offerings, but several popular dishes just won’t go away. One particular favorite, the Flachs explained, is the tuna katsu, which can be ordered as an appetizer or as a small entree. In this dish, ahi tuna meets nori, vegetables and sushi rice, all flash-fried with panko and sweet soy syrup.
The tables are often filled with skiers, locals and passersby, and familiar faces turn up at the restaurant bar. John described the setting in a few words: “Dirt bags with duct tape [on their clothes] sitting next to fur coats.”
Pam and John met while working at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky, and in 1995 they purchased BYWOM as a deli and catering service. The business was already named By Word of Mouth, so the Flachs kept it. Later, when customers started calling it BYWOM, the acronym started to take hold.
In the early years, the space was nearly one-third the size it is today. Since then, the couple has expanded BYWOM several times, adding a bar and pub, as well as a dining room. Now the bistro can seat 30 in the dining room and another 30 people in the pub.
The couple had been in the restaurant business long before purchasing BYWOM—Pam started waitressing in college while John began his career in the kitchen at 15 years old. Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, John cooked while in high school, but it wasn’t until working for Kurt Sanborn, the former executive chef at Big Sky Resort’s Huntley Lodge, when he started on his first formal cooking job.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get rich having a restaurant,” Pam said with a slight smile. But for her and John, the benefits of running their own flexible business in a beautiful place like Big Sky certainly outweigh the challenges.
The parents of three school-aged children, Pam and John have been able to set their operating hours in a way that works for the family. For the first few years of operation, BYWOM served only lunch.
However, when Pam and John had their first of three children, the duo focused their attention on dinner so that Pam could stay home with the kids. Now, with all three children in school, the Flachs are serving a variety of dishes for lunch, in addition to dinner.
Pam describes their employees as a family, noting the relatively small turnover rate and the way everyone works together to make BYWOM a warm and friendly place for their customers. However, she also noted their continuous staff shortage in the kitchen.
“John and I feel lucky to have a restaurant in Big Sky mainly because it is such an amazing place for our kids to grow up,” Pam said. “The opportunities for them are endless—academically, artistically and recreationally.
“We may not ever make a million [dollars], but most times we feel like we do,” she added. “We truly chose Big Sky for a place to live, and make a living, because we love it here.”