MEDORA—Boots Bar & Grill in Medora is a hometown restaurant with an international connection. A major part of the food and beer they serve is locally sourced, while their summer employees are students from all over the world.
Manager Melissa Schneider said, "We try to stick with as much local products as we can. It is a big deal for me to order products from Montana."
Schneider said Boots has seven beers on tap from Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux. Those Beaver Creek beers are featured prominently in Boots' Sunday Funday summer events.
Boots' owner, Brad Skachenko, said Sunday Funday offers Beaver Creek beer specials and live music from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.. And something else that is special on Sunday Funday is the musical group, the Fermentors, with Jim Devine. Devine performs at many of the Sunday Funday events.
"Jim Devine is Beaver Creek Brewery," Skachenko said. "He started Beaver Creek, and I like his music, too."
Schneider is the purchasing agent for Boots, and she tries to buy as much locally produced meat as possible. This season they will offer a new menu item, hand breaded steak strips. Boots specializes in Certified Angus Beef steaks, buffalo burgers, and elk burgers when they are in season.
"Buffalo and elk burgers are big with the tourists," Schneider said.
Baker Boy in Dickinson supplies buns for the burgers, and also supplies the dough for another of Boots' specialties, the "made from scratch" pizzas. They press the dough for each pizza, and prepare them freshly from the crust up.
Boots Bar & Grill opened with limited hours on St. Patrick's Day, and plans to open full time on April 1. It takes 35 to 40 employees to fully staff the restaurant during the summer, and many of those employees come to Boots through the J-1 Visa Program.
That program is for international students, and is overseen by the U.S. State Department. According to its website, "The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa is for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs."
The student workers at Boots come to Medora for three months, and live together in a dormitory setting. Many of the students are from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Russia, but others are from as far away as China and the Philippines.
"It is amazing to see the kids. When they first come they are very proper and timid, and then they open up. To see the cultures come together is amazing," Schneider said.
Some workers return for more than one summer, although Schneider said they also get to see a lot of new faces each summer. Different groups of students will hold "culture nights" throughout the summer, to feature their home countries' foods and customs. Schneider said this is a special experience for the students as well as for the local staff.
During the weekends, Schneider said the restaurant is, "... packed from top to bottom, all day long. It takes everybody working together to get the job done. We stress that no matter what you are doing, it takes every person working together to make it as good as we can. To make it work."
Skachenko bought the restaurant in March of 2009, and every year since then he has tried to do something different to improve the facility.
The restaurant began as the Medora Social Club in 1986, and about a year later it was renamed the Iron Horse. When Skachenko bought it he not only changed the name, but he also changed the look of the building. He added a two-story addition on the side, took out the covered porch and made it into a bar, and remodeled the bathrooms for handicapped accessibility. He also remodeled the kitchen and added equipment.
The building can now seat 200 people, with an upstairs section for families and parties. Live bands play in the front room on weekends, and there is a back game room with pool tables and other games.
Schneider is excited about her workers and her locally sourced food, and she is also excited about the community of Medora. She said all the businesses work together, sharing supplies if a neighboring business unexpectedly runs out of something.
"The town of Medora has been amazing that way. They all work together. It takes everybody to make it a successful summer. I am excited about the staff we have this summer, and the different activities we have planned," Schneider said.
Skachenko agrees. "We are looking forward to another good season."