Laughing Grizzly faces unique challenges as casino-restaurant during pandemic

Laughing Grizzly
Posted at 11:18 PM, Apr 21, 2020

MISSOULA — As a casino-restaurant with first-time business owners, Laughing Grizzly in Missoula has faced even more hardship than most restaurants during this pandemic.

But despite losing nearly 85% of its revenue, owners are determined to bounce back stronger than ever once this ends.

Before any mention of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tyler and Natasha Hendrick of Missoula had one major goal in life.

“We had this goal that by the time we turned 30, we were gonna do something big, and we both turned 30 this year.” said Natasha.

The goal was to turn 30 and become owners of a local business. In this case, that business is restaurant, bar and casino -- the Laughing Grizzly, in Missoula. After working there as a manager, Tyler expressed their goal to the previous owner.

“He agreed to sell us the restaurant and we worked on that for about 18 months and it finally culminated March 5 of 2020 when we finally signed the papers and got everything done,” said Tyler. “That’s when the Health Department shut us down 12 days after we took ownership.”

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Hendricks, but they had to adapt. After laying off most of their staff, they began working 12-hour days. Eventually, they brought another couple on board to help keep things running.

When it came to applying for an SBA loan, they faced another obstacle as the SBA accounted for gross revenue of their gaming machines.

“By using those metrics, every single dollar that goes into the machine regardless of how much you pay up, what you pay in state taxes, and regardless of what you pay the vendor for them to have their machines in your establishment, it didn’t matter," Tyler explained.

So Hendrick lobbied the congressional representatives to bring this to the attention of the treasury and the SBA. Eventually, SBA allowed restaurants using gaming as another method of income to submit their net gains instead.

“Even after those funds were distributed, we purchased this business on March 5, and the SBA wrote in guidelines that unless your business was in operation, and you had employees, were generating revenue as of February 15, you were also ineligible, so even after we fought to get the rules changed, we were still ineligible,” Tyler said.

The pandemic has hit Laughing Grizzly from every angle, but like so many Montanans, Tyler and Natasha are resilient, and they’re determined to keep their doors open.

“At the end of the day when we go home, what gets us to sleep is knowing that we have the support of the community and we know that more than ever now that this has happened,” said Tyler, with his wife Natasha adding, “And we’re gonna come back stronger than ever, we really are.”

Laughing Grizzly is offering take out at this time and they’ll even pack up a kit for you to create their signature Bloody Mary's at home. You can find their hours and daily specials on their Facebook page.