Nicole King, owner, and broker of 41 Realty Group, visits Enzo’s Bistro, one of Billings, Montana’s most popular and iconic restaurants. She interviews Tyler Samson, Enzo’s new owner, to find out what he’s keeping the same, what he’s changing, and what his vision is for this beloved establishment.
An Interview With Enzo’s Bistro New Owner Tyler Samson
Read on for a transcription of the interview with Nicole King and Typer Samson.
Nicole: Tyler, congratulations, first, on purchasing this property.
Nicole: This is an iconic restaurant in the Billings area, and you’ve made some changes but you’re keeping things the same also. Tell us about us and then also give us a little backstory on how you got here.
Tyler: Ok, well, to make a long story short for how we arrived here in the short term anyways – I owned a bar outside of town. I live in Billings so I was commuting about an hour and a half round trip every day, and I’m also a commercial real estate broker by day for NAI business properties. So I wanted to do something different to shorten my commute at night so that I could make both things work really easily.
And I had a conversation with James, the previous owner, I’ve know him for about 12 years now, we are good friends. And we had coffee about a year and a half ago and we had kind of started the conversation about me taking this over, and all the ideas starting coming about. And I got really excited and also kind of nervous, especially when COVID hit and we closed actually, at the very end of June on this. So there wasn’t really any game plan written for this, to deal with this, you know, so we’ve had to definitely make some adjustments. But, to be honest with our strong takeout presence and we are at about, about 65% capacity with the layout of the restaurant, keeping that six-foot distance rule. But you know with the takeout and that and I think just since we did a kind of a nice elegant remodel, and made some really nice changes, not only cosmetically but also to the menu, there’s been a lot of demand and a lot of people wanting to come check out the new changes, as well as, you know, the regulars who’ve been dining here for the last 22 years. So I think there’s a lot of excitement, you know, I’m very blessed because we’re actually doing about the same numbers as they were last year, even pre-COVID even with the reduced capacity. On a majority of the nights, we’re even surpassing sales, you know, from a year ago, which I’m very blessed, and yeah, we’re very fortunate for that.
Nicole: Absolutely. So you’ve been a chef in the Billings area for a long time?
Tyler: Not a chef actually. So I went to MSUB here when I was 21. I got into the restaurant industry working in, I started in a casino, just slinging beers and running that and then graduated into a few restaurants. My longest stent was with Walkers for eight years, I worked there through college, and then after college. About eight years ago I became a commercial sales agent with NAI business properties and I had a huge passion for both industries and I was trying to see how to make it work. I’ve actually kind of become one of the premier brokers for restaurants across Montana, so that’s kind of the niche I focus on.
Before this I had the Edgar Bar, and I had actually had that listed for the previous owners, and that’s how we kind of stumbled across it. I bought it with a partner and it was a very successful business, you know, I had that for almost four years before I did this. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for about 15 years, so I have a huge passion. But again, for me it’s also about being able to help other restaurants and casinos and bars, and you know, sell their businesses or have people buy them, so, you know, I handle both sides of the acquisition. It’s really fun.
Nicole: But you probably have great advice on how to be successful, also.
Tyler: Yeah, it’s been great. I’ve definitely done some consulting with a lot of restaurants I’ve sold, you know, I’ve represented both buyers and sellers, you know, all across Montana for the last eight years. It’s just really exciting and I love being able to, you know, give my personal input and give advice, and, you know, being a commercial agent that owns, has owned a couple restaurants now, and successful ones, and kind of more iconic ones – it definitely helps my real estate career as well. Being able to get new listings where you know people are now coming to me, you know, to list or to help them buy, you know, liquor licenses, or beer and wine licenses, or full establishments too.
Nicole: Absolutely, so what is the top-selling dish here?
Tyler: Right now, anyways, is our Alaskan halibut. Until the end of October, we’re able to get it fresh, so we actually get it second-day air to us. It comes with a certificate on the box, we get it in whole, so we bone it and skin it in-house. Our chefs filet it out and they weigh them out, so you know it’s never been frozen, it’s easily our top seller.
Nicole: It sounds delicious.
Tyler: It’s really good.
Nicole: What is the time that has carried through from all the previous owners to now that people come back again and again and again?
Tyler: There’s definitely some staples. So when we looked at the menu, my kitchen is led by Alex Bean and Jason Marble, the three of us got together even before I had purchased this before the sale went final and just looked at the menu. We just looked at the menu and, you know, we didn’t want to change anything too drastic. So I would say it’s probably 20% new but 80% we kept the staples, like the veal piccata, the shrimp tempura pasta. Paul loves the vanilla bean creme brulee, he’s been in for that. My favorite is the portobello and mozzarella pasta with fresh pasta with a basil pesto. Everything’s served over a bit of marinara with mozzarella and then we do a grilled portobello cap. So we actually skewer the pasta and then garnish it with two grilled artichokes on top of the skewer, and then we also add some mixed greens in the mix of that and toss in a little bit of balsamic too. So there’s so many different flavor profiles going on, and it is a vegetarian dish but you can add chicken, beef, sausage, or shrimp to it too, so it’s been very popular.
Nicole: That sounds delicious.
Tyler: So we kind of cater to every palette, you know, we have a lot of gluten-free options, some vegan options, a lot of vegetarian options. We’re doing a lot of steaks right now too, the last couple of weeks we’ve been running a hand-cut 15-ounce ribeye, and we do a homemade Atlantic crab bearnaise sauce over the top, so it’s kind of a nice surf-and-turf with a beautiful presentation. But we’ve been selling out of that almost every single night we feature it so it’s been awesome.
Nicole: What type of remodeling have you done since you’ve been in here?
Tyler: Yeah, mostly cosmetic for now. We did all new carpet, upstairs and down, we painted the entire interior. Matt The Painter and his team did that, they are going to be doing the exterior here in the next week or two. We added this bar top in so there’s actually seating at the bar with new lighting. We put new lighting upstairs and then I was fortunate enough to get Kira Fercho to display her art here on the walls too, and that’s been amazing. Very stunning. Then I hired Ann Jackson to help with the interior design as well, just for some extra guidance.
Nicole: Ann did a great job.
Tyler: Yeah, thank you. We wanted to keep it very elegant, keep it classic. We didn’t want modern at all, but yeah we just kind of brightened things up and it just needed kind of a facelift after 22 years, so it was a really fun process actually.
Nicole: So what’s the best way for people to get a hold of you do either order takeout, or to just come in?
Tyler: We’re kind of old-fashioned still, we like the phone call for the reservations, we still hand-write everything in on the reservation book. We don’t have a digital system just because it’s never failed in 22 years so why change it now? We do takeout orders over the phone as well, so usually, we allow a 30-45 minute time slot so that usually when that person walks in to get their to-go food, it literally was just boxed within 30 seconds. Or we’ll see them walk in and then fire and put everything together, so, you know, most of the people with the residential community that we’re surrounded by, you know, they’re home within just a few minutes so they’re still getting the food fresh.
We’re not doing any delivery options. Grubhub does have a small presence here, we don’t advertise with them just because of the quality of the food that we’re serving, we want to, you know, if we give it to a third-party courier that takes it out, we really have no control of how it’s handled and taken care of when it leaves here so we want it to be as fresh and hot as possible for the guests.
Nicole: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that experience, where I order something, and 45 minutes later it’s at my door and it’s…not great anymore.
Tyler: Right, yeah. We take a lot of pride in what we do and you know, being this close to so many houses, a lot of people are coming from downtown or the heights, they get the food on the way home and they can go have dinner with their families. Or, you know, especially now with the bar and we added a beautiful chef’s table right in front of the kitchen. A lot of people can, you know, have a drink while they wait for their food as well, so it’s been really nice. With the limited seating, to add the bar seating and the chef’s table, you know, to add the extra seating has definitely helped us out. We had to get kind of creative, you know, just to get people in seats.
And then this spring we’re going to do a really nice, kind of a glamorous patio too. So it’ll be really fun, we’re excited about that. I was going to do it in July, but with all the COVID spiking across the nation, I was a little worried about doing that, putting the money and the work into that and then getting shut down, you know, and not being able to utilize it so we’ll do that for sure this spring.
And then, I can’t announce it right now, but we have a huge exciting announcement at the end of October and we’re going to have a big, kind fo a grand event as well that we’ll start advertising for.
Nicole: I want to get invited to that.
Tyler: Definitely, you’re on the list.
Nicole: Everybody heard, I get to be invited to the grand event. Is there anything else that you would like people to know?
Tyler: That’s about it, you know, it was very important for me to keep Enzo going and keep it in the community. Like you said, it’s an iconic restaurant and I wanted to be able to, you know, basically, enhance what was already here, keep it in the community. I didn’t want anybody else with a new concept coming in here or a startup, you know, it’s very important to respect the history and just try to enhance. Our biggest thing we teach, you know, is hospitality here, you know, we like to customize the experience for the guest. I always tell everybody, it’s what the guest remember the most is how we made them feel. When you compare that with amazing food, it’s just kind of a winning combination. Want to see more great interviews and videos around Billings, Montana? Subscribe to 41 Realty Group on YouTube today and never miss out on everything that is great about our town.