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The Best of Bistro Enzo

Local commercial real estate agent and restaurant guru Tyler Samson gives Enzo new life

You’d wince at the mention of anyone buying a restaurant in the spring of 2020. Heck, I winced just writing it. But Bistro Enzo wasn’t doomed by unlucky timing when it sold that June to Tyler Samson. In fact, it flourished once he sank his teeth into it.

It’d be safe for someone to assume that taking over a business that’s been a successful staple in the Billings community would be, well, easy. A quick ‘change of rein’ as the western folk say. When in reality, the opposite is true—maintaining the success is a greater challenge once a change of ownership takes place, and the risk of failure is high under the watchful eye of regulars and newcomers alike.

“If I do it, I want to do it right,” said Tyler. “Because I only get one chance. If I take over this iconic business, that’s been there—at the time—for 22 years, and fail, it just isn’t right.”

The restaurant was stable and chugging along like a well-oiled machine when he made the purchase but Tyler wanted to breathe new life into it, spice things up a little bit. After owning the Edgar Bar for four years and selling his shares in September of 2019 to his business partner, he was ready for a challenge of his own—something he could have complete freedom of creativity with, since that’s also a large part of his professional life. Tyler has been a commercial real estate agent at NAI Business Properties for nine years and counting, specializing in sale and acquisitions of restaurants, bars, casinos, licenses, and other businesses across Montana. This passion and expertise coincidentally arms him a wealth of knowledge when it comes to purchasing, renovating, and selecting someone to design a restaurant space.

“I hired Ann Jackson. She was my interior designer who helped with a lot of things.” Ann Jackson is the owner and principal designer of Jackson & Company Design in Billings, who also has over a decade of commercial interior design experience.

Tyler saw his vision take shape over this treasured space with new flooring, new carpet, and modifications to equipment, and he complimented those interior changes with a new website, new logo, all new social media, and a fresh coat of interior and exterior paint by Matt the Painter to boot. The finishing touches included wall art and furniture that would give the restaurant a new conversation and feel.

“I have Kira Fercho—she’s a local artist. All of her art’s in there. We have about 30 pieces right now, which kind of brought the space to life,” said Tyler. “I also had Moon Construction build me a beautiful bar. We only have ten seats at it, so that’s really manageable.” But the statement piece that is arguably the best addition is the eight-place chef’s table right in front of the kitchen, right off the main line.

“Adding a bar and a chef’s table—as a single guy, if I’m going to go out to dinner by myself, Enzo was never on my radar unless it was a date night or with family or on holiday because I didn’t want to go in there and take up a table by myself.” Tyler wanted to change that internal dialogue—the one that makes us second guess whether we have on the right attire or are with or without others to justify the dining experience. He wants you in your flip-flops straight off the river, or in your button-up after a day at the office. And once this change of atmosphere shifted, Tyler noticed an influx of a younger crowd, which isn’t to say that the typical older crowd has fallen away. In fact, the regulars who once dined every other week are now coming one to three times weekly.

Naturally, with more business comes a larger staff—a surprising twist in the wake of the pandemic. He’s more than doubled his staff since his purchase of Enzo, and he’s proud to consider each employee part of the family, right along with his loyal and adventurous guests who have undoubtedly supported this new venture. “There was no playbook designed for anything like this, but our staff didn’t miss a beat,” says Tyler. “We could have never done this without the support of all of our guests, and we are so thankful and eager to give back as much as possible to show thanks to our community.” And speaking of family, Tyler’s son Myles brings that sentiment full circle, being born just two months before this big purchase.

Tyler’s investments are not without heart and compassion, especially when it comes to the man at the helm of the kitchen—executive chef Alex Bean.

“Even before I bought the place I said, ‘This is going to be your kitchen and I’m going to try to give you all the tools you need to make this a huge success’ but the important thing was basically enhancing what was already there. Bringing new energy,” said Tyler. He refers to Bistro Enzo as casual fine dining serving up Mediterranean/New American-inspired dishes. “I don’t want to be tied to one concept,” said Tyler. “We’ve won best romantic dinner and best seafood. This year we’re going for best seafood again. We’re flying in two to three hundred pounds of halibut every single week, fresh.” Winning a best seafood award with no sea in sight is an accomplishment in and of itself, and Tyler enjoys offering guests the element of surprise. He makes a great case for their steak. If you order it, chances are you won’t go anywhere else.

So what’s next for the goal-achieving Tyler Samson? He’s glad you asked. “We’re overstaffed, Enzo’s doing extremely well—why don’t I buy another restaurant? I wouldn’t do a second Enzo location but I’m looking for something else,” said Tyler. With rafts in both pools—the commercial real estate business and the restaurant business—only time will tell what new life is brought to the Billings culinary scene. Odds are it’ll be another night out for all of us.

“My biggest belief, really, is I strongly believe the way you make people feel is the thing they remember the most,” said Tyler. “If you pair that with incredible food in a beautiful setting, I mean, that’s a winning combination.” Indeed it is.