Missoula Restaurant Owners & Chefs:
Tim France – Worden’s Market & Deli

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 first met Tim France thirty years ago and since he tells of our first meeting better than I do, here is his version:

TM: I bought Worden’s Market but I had been a Deputy Sherriff for 6 years in Missoula County. I worked mostly drugs during that time. I was not the most popular guy on the north end of Higgins Avenue particularly being around the corner from the old Eddie’s Club which you were right next to. (Actually, it was Charlie B’s at that time Eddie’s closed in the mid to late 70’s)

I think my name even appeared on some rest room walls although it wasn’t exactly spelled the same way. (We both laugh) but we knew it was me. I had an employee at the time that said he’d heard the neighborhood guys were going to quit shopping there with me being the owner and that I probably wasn’t even an owner but was working undercover.

Needless to say there weren’t a lot of business owners coming over and saying welcome. Really it was quite the opposite. I was just over there working my butt off. I used to work five days a week and then Saturday night too. One night you just popped in probably around 10:30 stuck out your hand and said: “I’m Bob Zimorino. Welcome to the neighborhood.”

I don’t know what prompted you to do that but I’ve got to say I will never forget it. It was very cool.  Things started getting better right about that minute and I thank you for that.

Needless to say Tim and I have been friends since that day.

There are a lot of places in Missoula to eat. WhyWorden’s?

TF: I think it’s pretty simple, it’s friendly, it’s fresh and it’s real.

What dish is your signature dish and why that particular dish?

TF: We have a number of signature sandwiches but we have the Worden’s Whoppa, which as you know has a family connection to you.

BZ: I do know, but tell the story.

TF: Well once we got the deli up and running it outgrew itself. We needed to get a real pro to run. Nick and Julie (my brother and his wife) had just moved back to town from Durango. Julie expressed an interest and she would have been perfect. She wanted to discuss it with Nick before she committed to it and then of course Nick was killed and then that deal didn’t go down. She had developed that sauce for a sandwich she was making down there. She turned us on to it and we’ve been making it ever since. I think it’s amazing how many times you can eat that sandwich, for me about 30 years, and it just wakes you up. It has so many great flavors going on and again it’s made fresh.

What would you want it to say to the person that orders it?

TF: (emphatically) EAT ME!

We both laugh out loud.

What is your favorite dish prepared in another Missoula restaurant?

TF: One of the dishes I love is down at Scotty’s Table the Cassoulet (Heirloom Bean and Vegetable Cassoulet).

As a place to do business, whyMissoula?

TF: Well for one I was born here. I tried to leave. I left here for about 9 months and that didn’t work for me. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a living here. What I do for a living is not only challenging but incredibly gratifying. People love this place. I feel like we’re super blessed because we get to provide for a customer base that is greatly appreciative. It may run me into the ground before it’s over.

What is your least favorite cooking or restaurant trend?

TF: I actually think the restaurant business is trending in a good way that allows for a broader range of foods that the local economy can support. I think we have a pretty good range of foods available here. (in Missoula). If there is a negative trend I would say that I’m just not crazy about chains. I don’t think that they provide much except convenience…in terms of quality or personality or dynamic range they don’t provide anything. It’s just convenience at a cheap price and anymore it’s not that cheap.

It’s the Iron Chef competition and you are up. Who would you rather be up against Bobby Flay or Cat Cora?

TF: (laughing) I don’t really know those guys but probably Bobby Flay because I know the name.

(Exie France is Tim’s partner in the business as well as the bookkeeper.) How do you like working with your wife?

TF: It’s a challenge at times for sure. It’s not like we go home and sit down and have a glass of wine and say “How was your day, dear?” We have to find other ways to sort of complete that loop and still achieve purpose in the job. A little sidebar, in the first couple of years we were both working the floor. We would both be there at the same time and vendors would come up with displays and ask “where we do you want this? Or where do you want that.” I’d put it there and Exie would say, “No it should go over here.”

This got to be a kind of a problem because we’re both kind of opinionated and would have our own reasons for wanting to have things done a certain way. It was confusing to our vendors and quite frankly to our employees as well. So we sat down across the table from each other much like you and I are right now and I said: “I don’t know very much about business but I do know this. There can only be one boss.”  She said “Oh, is that right?”

I said, “I would like for us to make a decision about who’s going to be the boss. It can definitely be you if you want to be the boss. That way you’ll get to make every decision that you want but you’ll also have to make every decision that you don’t want.” She thought about for about three seconds and said “You’re the boss.” From that time on she did the bookkeeping and I did the floor work and it has worked out. She is a phenomenal bookkeeper. Without me having to add that to has been great and probably kept us out of jail and the taxman off of our ass.

What do you think when you hear someone say: “I think running a food establishment looks likefun.”

TF: Oh well I hear that all the time. I continually hear it…and from people who are smart people too.

BZ: (laughing) Inferring this might not be their smartest moment?

TF: Exactly so. All I can tell you is that I get chills running up and down my spine. What I would like to be able to do for them is to have a big curtain that I could lift up and have them look into my brain and see what they are up against. If they did, they would turn and run really quickly. It’s a hard job. I don’t regret it except that I wasn’t really trained in food service. I didn’t really know it. I bought this building that was  three times bigger than our original location across the street. We had to fill it so we thought well if we could sell folks a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

BZ: Downtown Missoula needed a deli.

TF: Here’s how bad we needed one, we grew 30% percent a year for our first three years. It almost cratered me. This tail has been wagging the dog ever since. To be honest with you it is the hardest thing I have ever done. The trick isn’t to get people to eat food, it is to come away from it with a profit and have some sort of consistency.  The deli isn’t quite where I want it yet. We finally got the bakery going in the right direction so now I can turn and focus on this. It takes the most in payroll and the most in time but ti is the most dynamic thing that we do.

Give me 5 words to describe your restaurant.

TF: It’s fun, funky, real, loud and it’s quality.

BZ: Thanks Tim.

TF: Yeah, well Thank you.

Worden’s Market and Deli
451 N. Higgins Ave.
549-1293

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 series on Chicken Picatta!

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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 hislifetime.