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Making it in Big Sky: Blue Moon Bakery

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Amy and Christian Johnsen, owners of the local Blue Moon Bakery, became the third owners of the business over 18 years ago. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER


BIG SKY- After spending several winters as ski bums in Utah and teaching and traveling in Asia, Christian and Amy Johnsen decided it was time to put down some roots and get serious. While checking out Bozeman as a prospect, they took a drive up to Big Sky and fell under the commanding trance of Lone Peak. “Maybe we can ski bum for one more year,” they thought to themselves. Having always worked in restaurants, the husband-and-wife duo knew they eventually wanted to have a sandwich shop of sorts. In 2001, they got their chance when they became the third owners of the Blue Moon Bakery. Since then, they’ve evolved the small-scale bakery into a restaurant and community staple. Through a keen and personal focus on relationships with staff and a very regular customer base, the Johnsen’s have established a gathering place they hope will serve the community they love for years to come.

EBS: What is most unique about the Blue Moon compared to other restaurants in Big Sky?

BMB: “Tourists are our bread and butter; they’re what we make our gravy on. But we are here because of and for the community as a year-round place where local people can count on coming to get decent food. And we are definitely unapologetically dirtbag.”

EBS: How has your business evolved since opening?

BMB: “It’s changed enormously. It went from a staff of probably five including [Amy and I] up to a staff of 30 during our busy times.  It’s grown with the community, for sure. We’ve got our production down…and streamlined our operations. After 18 and a half years you start to figure some stuff out. We’ve definitely made changes in processes, recipes and procedures and everything else has really made the business that much more efficient. We learned what to focus on and what to give up on.”

EBS: What are decisions you’ve made that have made Blue Moon successful?

BMB: “[To be] owner run, but also to allow people to do their own thing, as well. And to invest in our business, to invest in new equipment: to upgrade our ovens to the triple stack when the most we ever had was two, and to buy a new bread oven. We aren’t afraid to put money back into the business.”

EBS: Where do you see your business is 10 years?

BMB: “We are starting the process of thinking about transitioning the business to whoever the next owners will be. We’ve got two kids that are going into college, and after that we’ll have a couple more years of work. After that, we’ll probably be ready to move on to sell it or transition it somebody that is already working here or somebody who is up to this job and lifestyle. [The business] has afforded us a great opportunity to live the mountain lifestyle, while doing the things we love to do and owning a property here and earning a comfortable living. We’ve found a little niche that’s really paid off for us, and for that we are really grateful. We hope to afford somebody else the opportunity to do the same down the road.”

EBS: How do you use your business to become involved in the community?

BMB: “There are lots of charities that we support. We try to be generous, especially in-kind support of people’s events or charitable organizations. We are always up for a gift card or a breakfast or a pizza.”

EBS: What’s your favorite pizza combo?

BMB: “Salami, green olive mushroom and onion—the shooting star. It’s the least popular pizza but it’s still on there because we love it. I [Christian] love the cosmos because it’s got uniquely interesting ingredients that most pizza places don’t use. It’s slightly on the mood of who is making it because you have broad license to put anything you want on it.”

EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stay?

BMB: “It’s beautiful here, and there is skiing! It’s so nice to be in a town where you know most people, where you walk around and acknowledge each other and say hello. We love Big Sky. Some people would be driven cray by small town living, but we’ve taken to it. We feel very fortunate to be successful here.”

EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

BMB: “Value the people that make you money and that you depend on to make it. You can’t treat your employees like they are disposable. You’ve got to nurture your relationship with them and develop a real sense of mutual respect. It’s a positive feedback loop that we want to keep alive.”

EBS: As a business owner and resident, what hopes do you have for Big Sky as the town develops?

BMB: “That they don’t forget the little guys, too. I would hope that there is some consideration by whatever powers make the decisions to make sure that the people that are here, that are actually doing the work, that make the town go can live a decent lifestyle.”

EBS: How do you incorporate the mountain town lifestyle in your business?

BMB: “The biggest way is through having the business provide us the opportunity for getting out, and also affording people that work here the opportunity to live their lifestyle and provide them with the means to live here, too. We have 10 rooms of housing, associated with the business. We own these spots so that we can put [our employees] up, too.”

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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