We can’t quite remember when it first struck us that it might be fun to do a feature on the best jobs in Missoula. (Full disclosure: actually, we stole the idea from Boise Weekly, which is kind of funny if you think about it, because even we have better jobs than those poor souls at Boise Weekly. They have to go to work in Boise.)
Whatever the idea’s origin, the project took on a certain shall we say poignancy as we slogged through a Labor Day Monday to put it all together.
But enough about us.
Chances are, the job you have is not your dream job, and you’re lucky to have it anyway, because this is Missoula, where we take our salaries in pride of place and chew the scenery for lunch when our stomachs start to grumble.
This is a cruel conundrum of a town, in a manner that only a truly, deeply appealing town can be. Living in Missoula requires suitors to solve a calculus of longing and regret, a trade-off between attraction and desire, income and payback. Calculus is hard. A lot of people want to live in Missoula. The question for most of them—and for many already here—is how, financially, to make that work?
It only seems hopeless. The following seven profiles introduce locals who’ve solved the math. Because this isn’t Los Angeles or New York—or Seattle or Atlanta, or even, God forbid, Boise—it’s not all about the money. It’s not even mostly about the money. It’s about doing work that matters and leaving time to live, in balance. It’s not about status. It’s all about job satisfaction. And these examples are proof, if only to help you through the day, that dream jobs really do exist.
Place of work:
The Stock Farm Club
Toby’s not the type of guy to say. “I’m just happy to be here.”
Toby McCracken has the coolest job in Montana, and he knows it. Being in charge of your own kitchen has got its perks after all. But being executive chef of the exclusive Stock Farm Club, well, that’s just downright lucky.
For those of you unaware of the 2,600-acre luxury community and world-class private golf club that lies just outside of Hamilton, here’s the rundown: The Stock Farm, originally founded by turn-of-the-century copper magnate Marcus Daly as a horse farm and family retreat, is currently the part-time/weekend home to a number of Fortune 500 executives, including part owner Charles Schwab. McCracken gets to cook them all dinner, and cooking is his one true passion.
The people he cooks for. “These people eat all over the country and all over the world, and have very expensive palates,” he says. And when a few of them learned of his enthusiasm for continuing education, they flew McCracken to some of the best restaurants in the country, such as Antoine’s and Brennan’s in New Orleans and Terra in Napa Valley (which Stock Farmers either own or know the owners of), to train under their resident five-star chefs. And he gets to cook alongside some of the finest kitchen crew he says he’s ever had the pleasure of working with, and to whom he credits much of the restaurant’s culinary creativity.
Not so hot:
All jobs have downsides, and McCracken’s includes having to get food to the farm, which lies 15 minutes outside of Hamilton, three times a week. “That kind of gets old,” he says.
Directions to Heaven’s Kitchen:
The status of Certified Executive Chef requires extensive training in sanitation safety and nutrition, five years in the kitchen as an executive chef, and rigorous testing by at least three people certified by the culinary association. McCracken started restaurant work as a dishwasher when he was 15, got hired as a line cook shortly after that, and has worked as a cook ever since.
In January of 1999, at age 25, he was offered the position of sous chef at the then-unopened Stock Farm, so he packed up and moved to Hamilton from Spokane. After five months, the former executive chef left and McCracken was offered the position. “I got his job—it was beautiful,” he says. “It was my dream come true a lot sooner than expected.”
If you happen to be an executive chef interested in his particular position, don’t get too excited, because he doesn’t plan on leaving. “I don’t think I’ll ever find something so perfect,” he says. “This is absolutely the number-one job for me.”
Place of work:
Red Bird Wine Bar
30 hours a week at $6.15 an hour, with tips ranging between $50 and $150 a night.
Some Missoula businesses have a special reputation, good or bad. For the Red Bird, at least part of the establishment’s good reputation is that the people who work there have ample time to follow their true callings. It’s not that the employees hate serving pan-seared duck rolled in sesame crepes, just that some of them have other things to do, like train to fight in mixed martial arts (Brian McGrath), or rock (Tom Catmull).
Erika Rauthe, who spends her nights behind the wine bar, is doing her best to keep that reputation alive.
“One of the reasons I took this job was because I knew other employees were pursuing their passions,” she says.
When Rauthe isn’t serving up wine and beer, she runs her own life-coaching business.
“The best way to describe coaching is like this: Therapy is like an archeologist finding out what happened, while a coach leads people more like an architect, helping them build something,” she says.
The Red Bird gig serves up plenty of time for Rauthe to focus on that budding business, because she works only in the evenings, five nights a week, making enough for rent and fun.
The best part? “I have all day to foster my business and meet with clients.”
The other best part:
“The wine bar kind of caters to everyone. We get people who are very formal, and we also get the really casual crowd,” Rauthe says. She also likes her bosses, Red Bird owners Jim Tracey and Laura Waters, and the fact that she has plenty of time to hang out with her 10-week old puppy, act, coach, and go running. “I don’t know any place in Missoula that gives you the ability to do so much.”
“[Business] fluctuates with the seasons, which is an industry drawback, not really a Red Bird drawback. When the students are here business is just up,” she says. But having more customers doesn’t exactly mean better times.
“It’s normal for customers to see me and say, ‘Oh. She’s a server.’ Or they assume that I’m a student…I wish I could have a label on my head that said, ‘I do other things!’”
How do you become a Red Bird Wine Bar server?
For Rauthe there were two factors: She had extensive serving experience in the Missoula restaurant and bar scene, and she knew Tracey and Waters were opening a wine bar at the Red Bird.
“It’s all who you know in Missoula,” she says.
“Voice of the Griz” radio commentator for men’s basketball and football
Place of work:
Clear Channel Radio’s KGVO, 1290 AM
$800 a month
Mick Holien must have—and be—one heck of a good-luck charm. Ever since the University of Montana’s “Voice of the Griz” started calling football games 14 years ago, the team has reached the playoffs. “And let me tell you—it wasn’t always like that,” Holien says from his home in Polson. “I remember back in the day doing P.A. for games and there were maybe 500 people in the stands. It’s come a long way.”
So has Holien. In 1985, Holien owned a local bowling alley. He stumbled into radio after someone was impressed with his voice over the bowling alley’s intercom system. A DJ gig quickly led to him becoming the voice of the women’s basketball team, where he roomed with coach Robin Selvig on road trips. “We were the only two men—and with budgets as they were back then, it was the only way,” he says. “Robin taught me a lot of hoops back then.”
That lasted eight years, until Holien took on the men’s basketball and football beats in 1993. Now entering his 15th season, Holien is excited to continue his winning connection with the team.
Best thing about the job:
“What job? I mean, truly, I get paid to do something that some people would pay to do. The games are the ultimate high and you really feel like a part of the action.”
Holien says there are very few—“I even like the travel”—except for the fact that, much like the athletes he talks about, he’s sometimes forced to play hurt. Twice in the last 23 years Holien has had major surgery—gall bladder removal and knee replacement—within a week of a football game, and still showed up for work. “When I had the gall bladder surgery I got a call from [football coach] Bobby [Hauck] and he said, ‘Mick, I expect you to play hurt, or else you can’t be a part of this team.’” Holien has never missed a game, except when football and men’s basketball play on the same day.
How can I do that?
Holien worked for 10 years as a sports reporter for the Spokesman Review before moving to Missoula and buying the bowling alley. For 12 years in Missoula, in addition to calling games, he worked as a news reporter at the Missoulian. “But to get the job, I guess you have to own a bowling alley first,” he says.
Place of work:
St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center
Depending on seniority and shifts worked, between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.
Jeff Shapiro is an avid hang glider, rock climber and kayaker, among other things, and sometimes on the same day, but as an industrial designer and builder he could never find enough time to do all the things he loved to do. So about eight years ago, while sitting under a tree at the Mount Sentinel hang glider launch zone, he posed that conundrum to his hang gliding buddy Karl Hallman: “How can I stay in Missoula and have a work schedule that is conducive to flying more and allows me to concentrate on some of my other interests in life?”
“He said, ‘Oh, you should check out respiratory therapy,’ because that’s what he was doing.”
Today it’s no mystery why three of Missoula’s 15 or so hang gliding pilots are also respiratory therapists: Professionals in that field make good money compared to most Missoulians, and the schedule affords lots of off-time.
“Usually it’s three days on, three days off, three days on, six days off; or four days on, two days off, two days on, eight days off,” Shapiro says. “It’s a great schedule for those of us who are obsessed with flying.”
“One of the greatest parts of the job is to work with other healthcare professionals and to help to save people’s lives on a regular basis. It also affords you a pretty decent living in an incredible place to live.
What are the drawbacks:
While the job leaves a considerable amount of time for personal pursuits, night shifts mean he’s often sleeping when the rest of his family is awake. But the most difficult part: “We deal with people dying. It’s pretty easy to care a lot, and bad things happen to good people, so it can weigh on you.”
How do you get to be a respiratory therapist?
Complete the four-and-a-half-semester Respiratory Care program at the University of Montana College of Technology, which costs about $11,400 for in-state residents. The program boasts that “jobs are plentiful throughout the United States.”
Place of work:
“As little as $2 and as much as $200 [per night].”
Our town’s bar-hopping citizenry has grown accustomed to the sight of slow-moving trikes plying the asphalt as they ferry the courageous and the timid alike to the sounds of bumping tunes. Several incarnations of the rickshaw business have served the late-night bar crowd over the past five years, and Steve Schorzman belongs to the proud line of Missoula’s pedal-power providers.
Aside from the obvious health benefits, Schorzman’s job has quite a few perks, from the short hours—typically 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., three nights a week—to the minor-league celebrity status attendant upon jockeying the festive coaches through the boozing throngs. He reports that pedicab drivers are proof that the barter system is alive and well in the Garden City—massage, food, shots and the occasional smooch are among the lengthy list of rickshaw tender.
Another oft-overlooked bonus is the righteous feeling derived from keeping intoxicated revelers away from their steering wheels.
The job fits Schorzman’s UM schedule well, and it grants him a prime seat for “witnessing the range of human emotion and human behavior, and listening to really awesome music. Or whatever music you want.”
The Good Bits:
“It presents an opportunity for getting by, or having a job and making some sort of living, and not being so bound to a traditional job and having a boss. Everything is on your terms.”
“The late hours, injuries, accidents, trouble with cops.”
Where do I sign up?
His friendship with the rickshaw’s builders led to the position, so Schorzman’s route to the saddle could prove difficult to duplicate. However, as non-motorized public transportation isn’t heavily regulated in Missoula, all you really need is a rig and a business license.
“If you were to get this job, you would need really good hand/eye coordination, [and] the ability to pay attention to everything that’s going on around you while still trying to watch for customers and make sure everything’s running right. Also, more than a rudimentary understanding of bicycle maintenance.”
“You’re not going to get rich doing it, but I do make a living.”
“For the last three months I’ve been in the farthest reaches of Mongolia watching ibex, looking for snow leopards in India at 16,000 feet in the Himalayas, swimming with whales south of New Zealand.”
Few will ever utter a sentence like that, especially when talking about work. As a writer for National Geographic since the mid-1970s, Whitefish resident Douglas Chadwick has been paid to travel the world and write about its wildlife.
As if that weren’t enough to make his a dream job, Chadwick’s work has given him material for 10 published books, most recently Growing Up Grizzly.
Furthermore, the job gives him access to the world’s most distinguished scientists, presidents of countries, and places that are normally off-limits.
“It really is a cool lifestyle,” he acknowledges. “But you get past that. After awhile, you say, ‘What is the point of this?’”
Chadwick’s says his writing brings attention, and sometimes aid, to the world’s endangered wildlife populations. In India, his book The Fate of the Elephant was used to bolster court cases that won greater protection for elephants. Being able to make a difference in the world he travels, says Chadwick, is the best part of his job.
“I get paid to learn how the world works.”
“Getting held up at a border in Africa by a bunch of 17-year-olds in uniform with automatic rifles, and they’re stoned, or dropping by the side of a trail in the Congo because you’ve got some virus that doesn’t even have a name yet.”
How to get there from here:
In the mid-1970s Chadwick got his masters degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, and some money from National Geographic for a small study on mountain goats.
Not long after finishing his study, he testified before Congress in favor of designating the Flathead a Wild and Scenic River.
“When I got done, this woman walked up to me and asked if I would come over to National Geographic,” Chadwick says. “She knew I was that mountain goat guy.”
National Geographic happened to be doing a special issue on Wild and Scenic Rivers, and wanted Chadwick to write about the Flathead.
“I was too dumb to be intimidated,” Chadwick says, “and I sort of blundered into it.”
Quality control specialist and specialty brewer
Place of work:
Big Sky Brewery
Undisclosed, but every Big Sky employee gets two free cases of beer a month
Any thought of working at a brewery probably conjures images of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s adventures in Strange Brew. In reality, working for our local version of Elsinore—that would be Big Sky Brewery—is pretty serious business for Derek Stepanski.
He studied beer in college—no, not like you, young freshman—and has turned it into his career. Without an official title at Big Sky, Stepanski describes his job as a sort of quasi quality control specialist—with benefits.
“I monitor the brewhouse; the cellar, which is where all the fermentation happens; and packaging, which is all the bottles or kegs, so that everything that we expect to happen is happening,” he says. “I’m basically monitoring everything that’s happening on a daily basis, and yes, that includes tasting the product.”
As for perks, Stepanski gets to help create specialty brews available only from the Big Sky Brewery tap room. His most recent creation is the delicious “Big Sky Belgium Triple,” on tap now.
Best thing about the job: “Doing the quality control is one thing, but I really like brewing what I want. The recipes are mine. The yeast is mine—I’m culturing this yeast up and fermenting and brewing these small, specialty batches. I get to make it professionally, sell it in bottles, and I get to have beer that I really like, in the styles that I like.”
Downsides: The punch line here would be wicked hangovers, but not so according to Stepanski.
“I don’t drink very much. I haven’t had a hangover in years. I don’t consume alcohol like that. To abuse something like this is just not smart,” he says, emphasizing his enjoyment of the finer points of the brews. “And even if I do consume alcohol in larger amounts, I do it in a way that allows my body to process ethanol efficiently. There’s a huge supplement regime you can take—a bunch of vitamins and minerals and nutrients that your body becomes depleted of because ethanol is a toxin and your liver is trying to remove it from your bloodstream.” The true drawback? “Missoula is so secluded from bigger cities and far from my family. That’s the only thing.”
How do you get a job with a brewery? You actually have to study. Stepanski attended the University of California-Davis and studied fermentation science with a specialty in brewing science. He landed an internship with Big Sky the summer before he graduated and was offered a job. He’s worked at the brewery for nearly three years.