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America Family Restaurant

America Family Restaurant is expected to open in mid to late June at 4910 Southgate Dr.

ERIK OLSON/ Gazette photo

The Fourth of July holiday should be a big day for an eatery called America Family Restaurant, and owner Sean Johnson is aiming to be open by then on Billings South Side.

Remodeling continued last week on the $4 million project to redevelop the former Geyser Park Family Fun Center at 4910 Southgate Dr. into a restaurant, bar and casino.

When completed, hopefully in mid to late June, Johnson said the restaurant will be ideal for travelers and locals. Two patios, smoking and non-smoking, will be built out front. A sand volleyball court is out back. A giant, 200-inch TV screen will be above the bar, surrounded by smaller sets, and more than a dozen items will be available on the kids’ menu to attract families, Johnson said.

“The South Side really needs a full-blown restaurant,” the 48-year-old former owner of The Bayou Restaurant said.

Johnson is partnering with Barb and Dave Hawkins, who own a contracting firm. Johnson will be the owner/operator, and he’s hired a general manager, Cameron Rickard, 30, who previously worked for him at The Bayou.

The property became available after John Williamson, owner of Geyser Park, decided in 2015 to sell the business in two chunks and downsize in a new spot at 7250 Entryway Dr.

Johnson and his partners bought the three-acre parcel, which includes the building and parking lot, in January 2016.

Stockman Bank is financing the project.

America Family is in the South Billings Urban Renewal District, which leverages tax-increment financing to attract development. The district has funded pieces of a handful of developments in the neighborhood, including Comfort Suites next door, and made the area more attractive for private development.

Johnson said the location was a key selling point for the ownership group.

“We look at it as a complete bargain. We’re surrounded by hotels, and we’re right by the highway,” he said.

In fact, America Family will offer free delivery to hotel guests along the Southgate Drive corridor during lunch and dinner into the evening. The restaurant will also have a gift shop with made in Montana items, targeted at hotel guests, Johnson said.

The food is classic Americana: burgers, fried chicken, steaks and a salad bar. America Family will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Johnson is a U.S. Navy veteran, and his love of country inspired the theme for the restaurant. The American flag is the main part of the logo, and the red, white and blue colors will be prominently featured inside.

Johnson, who never finished high school, said he believes “if you work hard, this country will take care of you.”

The hours at America Family Restaurant will be 6 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends. The lounge will be open until 2 a.m. daily.

Rex still closed

The historic Rex restaurant remains closed in downtown Billings, with little indication it will reopen after its sudden Feb. 15 shutdown.

Owner Gene Burgad had suggested after the shutdown that he was looking to sell to an unnamed employee, and it could reopen within days. However, the eatery at 2401 Montana Ave. remained dark last week, with no activity inside during spot checks.

Recent messages left for Burgad at home and on the restaurant’s Facebook page have not been returned. Jennifer Iverson of the Billings building division said no one from The Rex has contacted the office about remodeling permits or seeking to reopen.

The restaurant also posted an email address on the front door for patrons with Rex gift cards. I received the same form letter in response to different inquiries a week apart, indicating the restaurant is for sale and gift cards would be reimbursed.

The Rex was one of Billings’ oldest eateries, tracing its roots back to the Old West. Burgad owned it for 35 years and was responsible for some of its largest developments, including the patio lounge.

Zip Trip reopened

The Cenex Zip Trip convenience store at 1046 N. 27th St. reopened this month after an extensive renovation.

The store closed in late December to undergo a major interior remodel. It now looks similar to newer Zip Trip stores, with the cashier’s booth front and center and merchandise on both sides.

According to the city of Billings, the remodel cost $125,000.

New app for Charter

Charter Communications customers will have more viewing options on mobile devices on the company’s newly released app, officials said last week.

Denver-based Charter announced Tuesday the release of its new Spectrum TV app for Apple and Android devices, which will allow customers to watch up to 300 live channels and 25,000 free and subscription On Demand titles at home.

Work on the app began after Charter completed its merger with Time-Warner and Brighthouse, Charter spokesman Brett Picciolo said.

Charter is Billings' largest cable provider.

It’s the first time the Spectrum app is available for Xbox One and Samsung Smart TV devices, Picciolo said.

The announcement comes as cable companies continue to struggle against “cord-cutters” who are dropping their cable packages in favor of online and streaming services.

“This strategy of delivering more value at very competitive prices has helped us add TV customers in legacy Charter systems in both 2015 and 2016,” Picciolo said.

Ad agency honored

Billings-based Kinetic Agency announced last week it won four 2016 American Advertising Awards, including a gold medal for photography.

The agency at 117 N. Broadway was honored during a March 4 ceremony in Bozeman.

Kinetic has won national awards five years in a row for creative and marketing work for clients.

The gold medal was for its photography campaign for Road Adventures, an Ohio company that sells customized camping trip packages.

Haikus from the valley

I hope new health care

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