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Amuse Bouche: If you build it, will they come?

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Data shows us that the Gallatin Valley has grown steadily for the better part of 100 years. However, that growth became exponential about five years ago and COVID has played a part in this growth. It seems everyone wants a piece of what we have in this fabulous part of America. 

Anyone can see that all commerce throughout the valley is booming, but for some reason I have a particularly crisp memory of visualizing the bars and restaurants here that I patronize and when exactly they have been busy, and when they have not. 

For the last several months, they are all busy, all the time, every day—at least those that are able to actually keep their doors open seven days a week. 

With this growth comes the need for folks to find a roof over their head and this basic human need is proving far from basic. We all long for our local bar, restaurant or coffee shop to provide the experience we enjoyed not many years ago. Yet none of us want to live next to a mighty oak apartment building or housing unit that blocks our little maple lives, to reference one of my favorite Rush songs. 

So where should everyone live?

One could make the argument that for years we have been dealing with a case of what is known as Windmilling.

The term originated from what is known as the Cape Wind Project when Cape Wind had a grand plan to build 130 massive wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, a cause supposedly near and dear to the Kennedys, the well-known political dynasty. That is until the late Ted Kennedy realized he would have to look at these wind turbines from the shore of his 26-acre oceanfront estate. Ted was a staunch environmental and clean energy advocate, yet became a participant of the “not in my backyard” mentality. 

Thanks to years of lawsuits and political red tape, the Cape Wind project never happened.

Now, virtually all of us are faced with the reality that employment now almost always comes with a contingency. And that contingency is housing.

If I’ve written once, I’ve written 100 times about the many hats a chef, restaurant or bar owner has to wear. Now it sems we need to have a landlord hat on our rack as well.

It seemed unfathomable 10 years ago when my friend Megan was living in Jackson Hole and had a well-paying job as a manager at the Teton Village Four Seasons, yet she required not one, but two roommates to afford her rent. 

Today the Gallatin Valley is singing that same song as we follow the unfortunate footsteps of our rival 180 miles to the south.

This all leaves us with the reality that, in an industry barely keeping its head above water, we now have to acquire or build places to live if we have any hope of retaining employees. It seems if you want to be in the hospitality business, you also need to be in the landlord and property management business.

Ever since the lifting of national travel restrictions, seating limitations and lock downs, the Gallatin Valley is busier than it has ever been and hasn’t looked back. If for no other reasons, we just don’t have the time.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef,  former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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