By BOB ZIMORINO
“Owners and Chefs” is a restaurant section with a twist. To fill either position, chefs and owners must be able to wear many hats: Cook, server, human resource manager, repair person, negotiator, mediator, psychologist, bookkeeper, and more. Armed with his top 10 questions, Bob Zimorino takes a peek behind the kitchen doors to find out how these local restaurateurs view the restaurant business in their own words.
I met John Powers in a meeting room off of the main dining room of the Ranch Club. The restaurant was built as part of the club house and as the new owners, John and his wife Colleen made their first foray into the restaurant business.
There are a lot of restaurants in Missoula. Why should a prospective diner choose yours?
JP: Number one, because we’re the best. What we do here in terms of service relative to any restaurant in the state and the fact that we are probably the only restaurant in the state that has the proper stemware for whatever you are buying, be it white wines, red wines, tequila, port, or Scotch. It all comes down to a lot of little details. That in itself doesn’t makes us better, but more so defines who we are.
BZ: And the food?
JP: We bring a different flair to our dishes. It’s not like anyone else hasn’t done a steak, we just add our own touch to ever dish. We go at it as a team effort. We don’t have an executive chef. We have a very talented group of people. We get together 6-8 weeks before the menu comes out. We cook everything, taste everything and then pare down to the ones that we really like. That is how we have developed seasonal menus. What we do with local ranchers is raise our own beef up out of Ronan. We look at what can we get fresh from the Pacific. Everything is fresh. We try not to do anything that is frozen. The fish are line caught and can be traced back to the fisherman. We have it flown in overnight and it is on your table the next night for dinner.
What dish is your signature dish and why that particular dish?
JP: We have fresh pasta with either a white or a red sauce. We then look for what is in season and make it our Ranch Club signature for that season.
JP: It goes back to the concept of the restaurant. We don’t turn our tables. What we’ve always said to folks coming in is “this is like coming into our house. You’re going to come over for dinner, you’re going to sit and have a nice evening. If you have a five o’clock reservation, that table is yours for the night. It is a little bit slower paced. It is much like eating at someone’s house. We fully expect that you may be there until 10:00 o’clock. We’re hoping the presentation, the aromas, the way it is set on the table, with proper stemware, the proper forks and knives. Then with that first bite, all the flavors coming through, we want the whole experience to be memorable.
What is your favorite dish prepared in another Missoula restaurant?
JP: Your pizza.
JP: In the winter we are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Now we’re open 7 nights a week. Our two go to places are yours and Fiesta En Jalisco.
BZ: Yeah, I like Fiesta’s food real well. Which pizza do you like? I saw Colleen ((John’s wife) the other night picking up two.
JP: Well, have to have two. She gets hers and I get mine. Colleen likes the white and I like the red, classic Zimorino’s all meat…
BZ: The Carnivore?
JP: Yup…Yup…Yup — and then of course your wings.
As a place to do business, why Missoula?
JP: My mom and dad were born and raised in Butte. Colleen was born and raised in Helena and we met in Whitehall about twenty three or twenty four years ago. I moved from downtown Chicago to Whitehall. We moved to Butte and then we lived in Seattle for a number of years, then Colleen got a job with Terry Payne here in Missoula and we moved to Missoula. As this opportunity came about it seemed to be the right place at the right time. Missoula has been a very good place for both of us.
How’s your golf game?
JP: Well…I saw a lot of the golf course I hadn’t seen before. (he chuckles)
It’s the Iron Chef competition and you are up. Who would you rather be up against Bobby Flay or Cat Cora?
JP: I’d rather beat Bobby Flay. I think just because of his eclectic grouping from restaurants to barbecue to an on the street kind of guy. He doesn’t seem to be pompous or any of that. He just seems like he’d be a cool person to sit and talk to and yeah…
How do you like working with your wife? How do you make it not always about work when you’re not at work?
JP: We don’t know. We are always at work. You know if we’re eating pizza on a Monday or Tuesday night, we’re trying to understand flavors, texture you know, it’s all part of it. You just get in that world. We have separated our worlds in what we do out here. Colleen is front of the house. She does all of the wine tasting. Our list is probably one of the two best in the state. We taste the food together. Colleen also has a day job doing insurance. A lot of this we do together. It’s all new to us. What started as a passion for golf has evolved into a whole other thing.
What do you think when you hear someone say: “I think owning a restaurant looks like fun.”
JP: Yes, if it looks like fun you should own one because I don’t think you’ll ever get it out of your system. It’s like a slow play. It develops as it goes. I get here in the morning and do e-mails. The front of the house is quiet. There are a couple of the chef’s prepping, the front of the house staff arrives and set up the tables, smells start to permeate the building. It is a lot of fun on a fun night. It’s like your birthday when it’s a good, good night. That’s the fun part. But when it goes from a really busy night to a really slow night even though you have done the exact same things, you start to second guess yourself.
BZ: So overall you would rate the experience as positive?
JP: Yeah, I don’t think there is a group of people that work harder for not a lot of money. We didn’t set out to have a restaurant. We bought a golf course that came with a restaurant. We’ve had to figure out how to do it our way. Neither of us being in the restaurant business and not knowing any better, this is what we turned it into.
You told me a pretty funny story about being in the restaurant business. Care to share?
JP: Well one night I had like sixty plumbers in the building for an event. We had a backup in one of the restrooms. I’ve got sixty plumbers in the building and I’m in there working the drain snake.
BZ: Welcome to the restaurant business.
The Ranch Club
8501 Ranch Club Rd.
Checkout Missoula Restaurants and our comprehensive list of Missoula Dining options. You may also want to watch Bob Zimorino’s Taste It blog or even watch one of his many video blogs–including this one on Cashew Chicken!
Bio: Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.