Finding a dozen unique local restaurants to feature at the Trailhead Brew & Chew was simpler this year.
That’s because the event has taken off in ways that organizer Jennifer Mercer, executive director of the Billings Depot, had hoped for but couldn’t have predicted three years ago.
Mercer was new to her job in 2011 when she combined her idea to showcase Billings restaurants with a beer fest, an idea Ashley Fagerstrom, of Family Support Network, had to raise money for her organization.
Mercer said she is a strong advocate for children and has volunteered with Family Support Network for several years. She understands how vital the program is to children from troubled homes.
“With the increase in drug use and crime, the abuse cases are up. It used to be about 80 percent of the abuse cases were related to alcohol abuse; now it’s meth,” Mercer said. “And with meth, the issues tend to become more severe.”
Fifty percent of the proceeds from the Trailhead Brew & Chew will go to Family Support Network, possibly providing enough money to hire an additional family development specialist who will help troubled families. The other half of the proceeds go to the Billings Depot, a nonprofit that will use the money to pay operating costs.
“This is our only event that we do as a fundraiser all year. We are very excited about it,” Fagerstrom said. “We have $30,000 in sponsorships this year, and last year we had $15,000, so it’s getting bigger.”
Fagerstrom, development director for Family Support Network, said her organization is currently serving 200 families. Their work includes providing supervised visits between birth parents and children in foster care and offering parenting classes.
“A lot of those classes are parent referrals. They realize they need some new tools to
work with the kids,” Fagerstrom said.
The 12 downtown restaurants hand-picked by Mercer are Walkers Grill, TEN, Bin 119, Lilac, The Rex, Jason Corbridge, Fieldhouse, Burger Dive, Café Italia, Don Luis, Montana Brewing Co., and Uberbrew. She sought out local eateries that weren’t part of a chain.
Restaurants were eager to get involved this year because they saw the potential to market their style of food, Mercer said.
“We have a little more focus on the food this year. This event is like a big outdoor taste of Billings combined with a brew fest and a big concert,” Mercer said.
Each chef will prepare a minimum of 1,000 servings of sample dishes, often experimenting with new recipes and trying to outdo the other chefs on originality. Plaques will be awarded to the top 3 restaurants, selected by popular vote. Everyone gets a ballot at the gate and the winners will be announced around 9 p.m.
Out of the 16 breweries involved, including every brewery in Billings, the top 3 will also be awarded plaques, chosen by the crowd. Each brewery will offer three craft beers.
Participants can pick up a sample from each of the 12 restaurants and have as much beer as they like. Wine will also be available. Missoula-based jam-grass band Ted Ness and The Rusty Nails open the evening at 5 p.m., followed by Billings pop-rock band Alder Lights, featuring vocalist Chris Smith. The Fox Street All Stars, a Denver-based blues rock band, will close the night. The event ends at 10 p.m.
Tables will be set up in the parking lot and plaza area around the Billings Depot, which gets shade at about 6 p.m., Mercer said. If the weather looks stormy, the party moves inside and tickets will be limited.
If it’s outside, Mercer is hoping for 1,500 people.
“We had a lot of fun the first two years, but with our upgrades to it, it will be even better this year,” Mercer said.