A Montana-Made Success Story: Town & Country Foods
article & photos by renata haidle
When Andrew (Andy) Perlinski started his grocery business in 1966 in Livingston, Montana, he would have had a hard time predicting that 50-some years later, the company would grow to serve not just his town but seven other locations across the state. As of last year, Billings is one of them. Joining locations in Bozeman, Dillon, Belgrade, and Lewistown; the Billings store opened in August 2021 in West Park Promenade, in the space formerly occupied by Lucky's Market. The new store came with the promise to offer quality products at affordable prices, as well as excellent customer service, proven by previous community awards such as "Best of Bozeman" and "Best of Livingston."
The gracious customer service extends to local producers, who benefit from having their products carried at Town & Country Foods, expanding availability and volume of sales.
“They are fantastic to work with, and we love the staff there," says Veronnaka Evenson, owner of Swanky Roots, a beloved local producer of fresh greens. "The accessibility to customers is the biggest advantage to working with them. Our little farm store can't be open the same long hours that they can be, so it is great to give people longer and closer access, as our greenhouse can be a little out of the way for some people." Additionally, Veronnaka says the produce department has been so wonderful and flexible to work with, allowing them to deliver products in reusable totes to cut down on cardboard waste.
Many other local producers found their way to Town & Country Foods' shelves in a partnership that benefits, not only both sides of the equation, but also the consumers. Browsing the aisles, I found favorites such as coffee from Mazevo, a variety of meat products from Ranch House Meat Co., microgreens from Tiny Forest, sauces from U-neek, and beer from Red Lodge Ales, By All Means Brewing, and Thirsty Street Brewing. And from a bit further out of town, an abundance of products from the Bozeman area, delicious cheeses from Amaltheia Organic Dairy, Alpine Touch spices, as well as produce and eggs from the Hutterite colonies of Martindale, Golden Valley, and Springdale.
The store also offers a breakfast and lunch bar with hot and cold items and a well-appointed deli department providing various salads, fried and baked chicken, deli trays, and hot prepared meals, to name a few.
What sets the store apart from its larger, name-brand competitors is that Town & Country Foods is 100% employee-owned. Travis Frandsen, President, explains: "Employees must work 1,000 hours and must be employed on December 31st of the year to get credit for a year of service in the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). T&C Foods contributes to the ESOP throughout the year, and all employees who get credit for that year get cash contributed into their account. This cash is then used to purchase stock as it becomes available. Stock becomes available as employees retire or leave employment with T&C Foods. Employees do not (and cannot) put any of their own money in the ESOP, it is 100% company-funded." To sum it up, "It's a retirement plan which helps to take care of employee retirement needs later in life. Instead of an individual owner, or family ownership, this is a group of employees that together hold the ownership of the company," he clarifies.
Next time you go shopping for everyday items, make your way to West Park Promenade and give Town & Country Foods a try. Not only will you be helping a Montana-born and grown business (and its employees) thrive, but you might also help your local community. Through a partnership with Family Service, the store facilitates the purchase of low-cost bags of groceries, ranging from $4 to $12, which they donate to families in need.
One last word from Veronnaka of Swanky Roots: “During their grand opening week, they invited me to set up a little table to talk to customers about my product. It was so fun not only getting to talk with the customers but also with the staff members. Everyone was so friendly to me and it was a super fun experience. While I have the most experience with the produce department, I know other small businesses that have their products on the other shelves; it is so cool to see Montana products throughout. I work with the T&C Foods stores in Bozeman, sometimes the ones in Livingston and Belgrade too, and I am extremely thankful we finally have one in Billings. I don't think enough people realize how great of a company they really are.”