Montana Brewing Co. ushered in a new era in the hospitality industry 20 years ago when it opened a combined restaurant and brewery at 113 N. Broadway.
Since then, seven Billings breweries and one in Laurel have opened, not to mention dozens more across the state. The trend has left beer drinkers with a wealth of flavors and styles of local beer from which to choose.
When he went to work at Montana Brewing Co. in 2005 as general manager, Sean Graves envisioned only a short stay.
“I wasn’t planning to work at the bar very long, but things started moving real fast,” said Graves, who bought into the business the following year and is part owner in the nearby Hooligan’s sports bar, as well as The Vig, Alehouse and Casino in the Heights.
“We’ve seen so many people work for us and then go on to other things. It’s cool to see a lot of people go out and make it on their own,” Graves said.
Montana Brewing Co. has won numerous awards in beer competitions over the years. But Graves is equally proud of the food.
“Our menu has moved with the times, and it’s one of the strongest in Billings,” he said.
Describe how you got where you are in your work today: When I was 15 years old, I decided that someday I wanted to own a bar by the time I was 30. At that point in my life, I began to learn as much about the bar business as possible. I read books, went to seminars and filled notebooks with ideas, lessons, successes and mistakes. I made it my passion to never be outworked by anybody. I started from the bottom and worked my way up to the top. I worked every position in the restaurant industry from dishwasher to bartender to learn the inside-outs of how things work. I never gave up on wanting my dream. You have to set goals for yourself if you want to achieve your dreams. I started with a big goal, but I achieved that goal by conquering all of my smaller goals.
What’s the toughest challenge that you have faced in your business? When I was 25 years old, I became the general manager and co-owner of The Montana Brewing Co. and Hooligan’s. At the beginning I faced some hurdles, people thought I was way too young to run a business of this size. I had to convince peers, fellow owners and my staff that the choices I was making were the right decisions. I appreciate everyone who stood behind me. In the past six years, with my staff’s help, we have doubled our business and built a new restaurant in the Heights.
What did you learn from that challenge? I learned that if you know in your heart, mind and gut that you are making the right decision you fight for that choice at all costs. Never give up and never be out-worked by your competition.
What’s the best business advice you have received? You can’t be afraid to fail. If you want to succeed, you have to be willing to take risks. People that don’t achieve their goals are unwilling to take chances. You have to be willing to hit rock bottom to make it to the top.
Who gave you that advice? John Taffer.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? I By seeing happy faces. I sell positive reactions for a living. Seeing a customer’s face light up with joy when you deliver them a tasty meal or mouth-watering ale is what this business is all about. If you continually make people happy in the restaurant business, the profits will follow.
Which living person do you most admire? My wife. She does an absolutely amazing job taking care of our two sons and me. I would be lost without her.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Owning a bar in Montana is extremely difficult. My dream was to own a successful bar and restaurant by the time I was 30 years old. I was able to achieve this quest at age 25. I am very proud to be one of, if not the youngest, liquor license holder in our state.
I’m happiest when I’m… enjoying one of our handcrafted beers with family and friends.