Harold and Larry Goode have added some Southern spice to the Billings South Side, and that’s not so bad for business at the Vegas Hotel.
The Great Falls-area brothers opened Goode’s Bayou Grill in March inside the hotel at 2612 Belknap Ave. near the Interstate 90 exchange.
It’s a big move for the Goodes, who had operated the successful Goode’s Q and Bayou Grill in Great Falls for six years but saw greater opportunity in Billings. For the owners of the Vegas Hotel, the restaurant is a major tool in their revitalization of a decades-old spot that is now competing in a near-saturated Billings lodging market.
“In any business, it’s a chance. You take a shot coming out here,” older brother and head chef Harold, 53, said.
The menu is classic Southern cooking: po’ boy sandwiches, sweet tea, seafood gumbo and jambalaya. Combine that with the barbecue — ribs, brisket, pulled pork and smoked sausage — and the Goodes say they have something for people to like in the Northern Plains.
“We really want the place to be for the locals,” Harold said.
The other partners are a third brother, Michael, and his wife, Danette. It was on the advice of Michael, who has a nose for business and owns a construction company in Alaska, that the Goodes looked to relocate in Billings and a bigger market.
They sniffed around spots on the West End but chose the Vegas Hotel, which had a vacant restaurant space and 300-person ballroom with catering needs, the brothers said.
The Goodes brought three cooks with them from Great Falls and have 12 employees. They hope to hire about a dozen more as business grows.
“Billings is moving so much more rapidly than the rest of Montana,” younger brother Larry, 52, said.
Officials at the Vegas Hotel are thrilled the Goodes are serving food in the first-floor space that’s been unused for a decade.
“It’s fantastic for the hotel business,” Vegas Hotel general manager Tom Miner said. “We wanted to be able to clean it up and have a restaurant, like in its glory days.”
Last year, seven new hotels were proposed to be built in Billings, which could increase the total number of rooms citywide by 15 to 20 percent. Developers jumped to capitalize on a growing demand for lodging, but local hoteliers fear they’re seeing an overbuild.
“We will have a glut of rooms. People will do OK during June, July, August. The issue is what you do for the next nine months,” said Steve Wahrlich, owner of the Best Western Clock Tower Inn in downtown Billings.
To compete, hotels in the city are spending millions in renovations to attract new guests. Greg and Becky Pekovich, who bought the Vegas Hotel two years ago, have repaired the roof, painted and recarpeted the inside and redid the landscaping outside.
The 100-room hotel, known for decades as the War Bonnet Inn, also has a casino and outdoor pool. The Vegas Hotel is billed as a Bakken connection because it has two North Dakota locations, but hotel owners say only a small percentage of guests are on their way to the oil patch.
Inside restaurants can increase the occupancy rate of hotels 5 to 10 percent — provided they’re “well-run and well-conceived,” said Wahrlich, president of the Billings Tourism Business Improvement District.
Wahrlich has seen it firsthand. In 2006, Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery moved three blocks into the Clock Tower, which boosted the profile of the downtown hotel and overall business, Wahrlich said.
The same could happen at the Vegas, if Goode’s Bayou Grill becomes a destination spot, Wahrlich said.
“It can be an attraction. It doesn’t matter if it’s buried in the bowels (of the hotel). It matters if people say, “Oh, my God, you’ve got to eat there,’ ” he said.
The Goodes bring a big name to the table. Harold graduated from culinary school in Texas and cooked at a private boating club on the Gulf Coast, and was later a corporate chef perfecting his Cajun skills.
In Great Falls, his “Haystack” breakfast — eggs, bacon, biscuits and hash browns, bathed in Q sausage gravy with a layer of cheese — was named Montana’s best breakfast in 2010 by Food Network Magazine.
Larry worked in hotel management for Marriott in Alaska. As the restaurant’s general manager, he is gregarious and engaging, welcoming diners and managing the staff.
Their roots are in Montana, which is why they were excited to come back six years ago.
The Goodes’ father, Dave, brought the family to the Great Falls area when he got a job overseeing dining services at Malmstrom Air Force Base. They grew up in the tiny farming town of Vaughn north of Great Falls and graduated from Simms High School.
It was tough to leave Central Montana, where Harold coached high school football and Larry was a school board member. But the brothers think they made the right move.
“We’re humble. We do what we do. We hope we can accommodate Billings,” Harold said.