You’ve probably seen Stephen Hindman serving customers with a smile at his restaurant, Stacked, in downtown Billings. That’s right where he loves to be – serving his delicious food and chatting with the people who walk through his restaurant’s doors. With several wins from various cooking competitions around town, and with a restaurant that most Billings residents place highly on their favorite places to eat list, we thought Stephen would make a wonderful addition to our “10 Questions with” series.
A bit of info about Stephen:
- He’s originally from Jackson Hole, Wyo.
- He’s a retired Army veteran.
- He co-owns Stacked with his wife, Stacey. She works a full-time job in Human Resources at Charter and then works at Stacked in the evenings, doing everything from dishes to decor.
- All of his children work in some capacity at Stacked.
Q: What inspired you to open up your own restaurant?
I’ve wanted to for a long time. I’ve been in the restaurant business for 20-plus years now, and I’ve always worked for other people – everything from being a restaurant manager to being a region director for a restaurant company, but I always felt like I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do at any of those points, especially as I got beyond the restaurant level. Even though it went well and I was good at it, it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted to be down here touching the customers that I take care of. I call them guests, not customers, because I like to treat everybody like they came to my house. It fits in with what our mission statement is and that’s simply to have everybody leave here feeling happier than when they came in, whether that’s by food, atmosphere, great service, or just giving them a nice place to sit and connect with whoever they came with.
Q: Where did your love of food come from?
Lots and lots of traveling. I grew up very poor, so it was lots of chicken, government cheese, and things like that. I joined the military after some college and spent my first almost six years in Europe. That was where it all just really took off. I just tried to eat and cook everything I possibly could. It fit well with what I like to do, and that’s take care of people.
Q: What do you love most about Stacked?
We tried to put together something that we really thought represented how I see Montana and how I see westerners. In particular, there are a lot of pieces that are Montana. Some of it’s western, but as a state, we’re not really “yee-ha” western. We’re also very industrial, so we have a lot of industrial pieces in our restaurant. The reason we work so hard as Montanans is because we like to be comfortable. So that’s where the contemporary comes in with the nice, big, soft seat backs and cushions. So there’s a little bit of heart, which Montana is, but there’s some soft, too, where we really work for our comforts. I wanted to put something together where I would want to go out and spend time with my family and friends.
Q: Why did you choose to open Stacked downtown?
Downtown was always the destination from the time we talked about opening a restaurant. We live in the Heights, but with this concept you really need people walking around. They have to experience it. They have to see it from the outside. They have to feel it with a little bit of music filtering outside and lights. It was just the ambiance of downtown.
Q: What is your favorite dish on the menu?
My favorite dish to eat is a steak. I grew up in Montana and Wyoming and you just can’t trade that. Beyond that, I don’t know that I have a favorite. There’s nothing on our menu that I don’t enjoy because our menu was developed from my family having Sunday dinners together. That’s why we’re closed on Sundays. It’s not religion. It might be football sometimes, but it’s because we reserve Sunday for family. My kids come home and I have a couple grandkids now and we make dinner, we plate dinner, and everything in our original menu has gone through the process of being served at Sunday dinner.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends on the day of the week, but it usually starts first thing in the morning. I have my son work for me in the morning. He opens things up, but I’m usually here by 9 o’clock in the morning and then I’m here until we’re done at the end of the night. It turns into a long, 100-hour workweek, but it’s not all bad. It’s lots and lots of work, but lots and lots of fun at the same time. I have three children and they all work for me in some capacity. I actually take Tuesday nights off now and sometimes a Saturday evening, and my daughter will watch things. My youngest son is a cook. I don’t ever think that I’ll remove myself from here completely, no matter what.
Q: What is something that people may not know about Stacked?
I think sometimes people still get the impression with the name “Stacked” that we just do burgers, but it’s only a small part of our menu. We have an entire back page of our menu that’s dinner. People tell us that we have the best steaks they’ve ever had. We do freshly smoked salmon every single day. We have these crazy, big, beautiful, porterhouse pork chops, and I sell more pork chops now than I do steaks, oddly enough. Getting people to realize that we’re not just a place to stop for burgers.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to open a restaurant?
Really think about what you’re getting into. Be passionate and excited about it, but really think about it because it’s not an easy business. You’re not going to get rich in a year. You may not get rich in ten years. It’s got to be something you really want to do just for the sake of doing it. Of course you should hope and plan to make money along the way but it’s not like finding an oil well buried in your backyard.
Q: How do you define your success?
I think success comes in stages. Success in the beginning was, ‘Let’s make it through the first year.’ Beyond that it’s really making sure that we’ve found where we belong in Billings. We’ve found that niche of people that we can serve and take care of and we’ve found regulars. We want to keep growing that.
We don’t spend a lot of money on marketing. We spend a lot of time doing food things that can help out – Zoofari and Taste of Billings and Men Cooking for a Cure. Those are the things that I like to do. It contributes to the community and gets food in the hands of people, but my preferred method of marketing is one table at a time. We bring you in for a great experience and let you go off and either tell somebody or bring someone in. That way it’s sustainable growth, sustainable marketing, and you’re always attracting people that are your customers and not people that are looking for a super value menu or people who are looking for a super fine dining place. Not that we’re not fine dining and we don’t do that type of food, but there’s a balance. I like to think of us as that anytime kind of place – after work, Valentine’s Day, things like that.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Billings?
Besides the people, Billings has a very “small town” feel. We talk to each other. I think we act like a small town, but it’s big enough that you can find almost anything you want here, within reason. But yet, it’s small enough that you can get out and get away anytime you want. On Sundays throughout the summer, we floated the Yellowstone River every weekend, all summer long and got back home in time to prepare Sunday dinner. That’s what I love about Billings.