By Mira Brody CONTENT PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
BIG SKY—Ian Troxler purchased Olive B’s in the middle of the pandemic. Although it felt risky at the time, today he has grown the Big Sky food staple into an epicenter of delicious dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Although a change of ownership always comes with some alterations, Troxler has done a good job at honoring Warren and Jennie Bibbins’ legacy in many ways, one of which is keeping their famous pork chop on the menu.
Explore Big Sky sat down with Troxler to talk about Olive B’s, its history and future, as well as how the Meadow Village eatery got its name.
This series is part of a paid partnership with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. The following answers have been edited for brevity.
EBS: I’d like to start with a little background information on you: When did you first come to Big Sky and what brought you here?
Ian Troxler: I came to Big Sky in 2002 for a job of all things. I had spent the summer working as camp chef at a fly-fishing camp in the Kola Peninsula of Russia (not a possibility these days) and was looking for work. Lynne Perkins who had the Bighorn Café (now Café 191) was looking for a chef to start a dinner service to add to the breakfast and lunch she was doing there already. I worked for her that winter season and then was hired as executive chef at Lone Mountain Ranch in the summer of 2003 where I worked for 13 seasons. I left Big Sky in 2006 to pursue my love interest in New York City. After 14 months working for Jean George Vongerichten at his Perry Street Restaurant I’d secured the girl. I’d had enough of the gritty city and returned to my position at LMR with my now-wife.
EBS: Tell me about the history of Olive B’s: Where did it get its name? When did it first open?
IT: The founders of our restaurant, Warren and Jennie Bibbins, named it for their daughter Olive. It first opened on Valentine’s Day of 2012. After a number of years running it, Bibber and Jennie were looking for a way to retire. Having known me from cooking their wedding dinner they invited me to come work for them and after a time we made arrangements for me to purchase the restaurant from them. Due to the pandemic and other issues the process took over a year. On New Year’s Eve of 2020 I finally took ownership. Buying a restaurant in the middle of the pandemic seemed akin to setting sail into a hurricane but it has worked out for me.
EBS: How big is your team?
IT: I usually have about 20 people on staff.
EBS: You’ve been a food staple of Big Sky for quite some time. How have you watched the area grow? Despite growth, what hasn’t changed around here?
IT: When my friend Eric Stenberg and I first came to Montana to run the Gallatin Gateway Inn we had come from a food scene in Portland, Oregon that was all about sustainable locally driven agriculture. It was a bit of culture shock to find that there wasn’t much at all happening here. We did eventually meet Mel and Sue Brown and their wonderful goat cheese from Amaltheia Dairy, now carried on by their son Nathan. We met Matt and Jacy Rothschiller who started Gallatin Valley Botanical and were growing veggies on par with the quality we had been used to seeing in Portland. Slowly but surely the local agriculture scene here has blossomed and now there are many great local producers supplying restaurants.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Big Sky will always be surrounded by wilderness and National Forest that are among the most beautiful anywhere. Even as more and more homes are constructed and the traffic gets worse, it only takes a few minutes hike to be out in the wilds of nature and forget about all the troubles of the human-made world.
EBS: What is your favorite item on the menu?
IT: I am proud of our pork chop. The pork comes from a rancher in Belgrade who focuses on consistency and quality and it gets rave reviews. It is one of Bibbins’ original dishes and though I didn’t conceive it I wouldn’t change it.
EBS: What is your favorite memory or favorite part of running Olive B’s? What about your favorite thing about working and living in Big Sky?
IT: I have come to enjoy the seasonality of business here. It allows for a chance to relax and recharge that isn’t usually a part of a chef’s lifestyle. We have a loyal local following and it’s nice to see familiar faces from the kitchen window and be a part of a small community. The skiing on Lone Peak is so amazing and getting to share that with my daughter is one of my favorite things about living here.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
IT: As a young cook just out of culinary school we are taught to pursue the highest level of cuisine we can. Find the best chef to learn from and the fanciest, most impressive restaurant you can get a job at. But one thing young cooks fail to recognize sometimes is that the most successful restaurant company in the world isn’t Eleven Madison Park or Noma or any other Michelin three-star gastronomic temple, it is McDonalds, and they got there by being consistent. The same every time everywhere. At any level it is more important to put out a consistent quality product than any other factor.
EBS: Is there anything else that you’d like the Big Sky community to know?
IT: I find it to be important to ride the Lone Peak Tram every now and again on a bluebird day and put yourself in the mind of someone who’s never been. Looking at the rocks and super steeps of the couloir and wondering how you’re going to survive this run. Get to the top and instead of jumping right into your gear to get some pow, walking up to the top and have a look around. Take in the glorious views from the Tobacco Roots all the way to the Tetons awe-struck, mouth agape.