Courtesy of Stonegate Pub Company/AP
Courtesy of Stonegate Pub Company/AP
MISSOULA, Mont. – When Stonegate Pub Co. Chairman Ian Payne needed a name for the newest chain of bars he was introducing to the United Kingdom, his first thought was of his favorite town in Montana.
“When we bought the business they were called Lakota, and somebody already owned the brand name. We had to find a change of name, I just thought of my favorite town in Montana, which is Missoula. We come to Montana on holiday every year. We love it very much, indeed,” said Payne, who heads Stonegate and its 550 bars around the U.K. Fifteen bars are named “Missoula.”
Payne’s affinity for Montana came out of a fascination with the United States.
Payne “loves the U.S., loves the people and loves the countryside.” But out of the 47 states he’s visited, Montana is his favorite. Payne and his life partner have spent their last 10 late-summer holidays at the Triple Creek Ranch near Darby.
“She rides every day, she loves the cattle drives. And I love the fishing,” Payne said. “It’s God’s country.”
When he’s back in the U.K., Payne’s business is bars.
Payne, 59, started working in a bar when he was 18. He built up his first business from behind the bar, growing it to include 3,000 bars. He and his partners sold that business in 2004 and “started again” with Stonegate.
Payne’s time in the U.S. has inspired him to run bars that “match the hospitality I always get when I come to America.”
“In terms of service, you’re so far ahead of everyone in the world, and that’s what we’re trying to emulate,” Payne said.
The Missoula bars’ drink menu colorfully, and a tad inaccurately, describes the Garden City like this: “Missoula – is a city in the U.S. state of Montana, dubbed ‘the garden state’, on account of its mild winters. When the residents aren’t hunting in the ‘rattlesnake wilderness’ or fishing in ‘Big Blackfoot River,’ they really know how to party.”
Payne likened the Missoula bars to Missoula’s Iron Horse Brew Pub, which is Payne’s favorite bar in Missoula.
The logo for the Missoula bars is the head of an antlered deer.
“We use a lot of sort of American imagery in there. And we try to make it look pretty much like what we think an authentic American bar would look like,” Payne said.
Pizza and burgers are featured selections on the menu.
Instead of just beer or mixed drinks, Missoula bars features specialty cocktails, an option Payne recognized as the fastest-growing drink segment in his country.
“We still sell beer, but beer sales in the U.K. have been declining for the past 15 years. You have to look for new drink categories. Cocktails are very much the new thing,” Payne said.
“Missoula Classics” cocktails include “Jack the Lad (Jack Daniel’s, Bacardi oak heart spiced rum and apple juice) and The Godfather (Disaronno amaretto, Jack Daniel’s and coke). Patrons can get either option in a glass or in a pitcher.
One Missoula bar happens to be near the Olympic mountain biking course Missoulian Sam Schultz will compete on during the 2012 London Games. Schultz, a Hellgate High School graduate, was named to the U.S. Olympic Mountain Biking team in June.
Payne knows exactly where the course is and invited Schultz to visit a home away from home while he’s in the U.K.
“Once he’s competed, he can come have a free night out on us,” Payne said.
Schultz said he’d make sure to look up the bar.
The Missoula bars are one branch of Stonegate company Payne wants to expand. He’s looking into several new locations to expand to now and, eventually, hopes to grow the brand to include 50 bars.
Unfortunately, Payne doesn’t have plans to bring a Missoula bar to Missoula, or anywhere in the United States.
“I don’t think I could justify one bar in America. Although, it’d be a nice excuse to come more often.”
Courtesy of Stonegate Pub Company/Associated Press