Trevan Sparboe takes an idea, balls it up in his hands, blows some magic into his fists, and reveals a dream come true upon the reveal in his palms. Ok, maybe it doesn’t go exactly like that but he does take an idea and turn it into something special just like a magic trick. Trevan shares an intimate look at how both of his businesses were found and how he hopes they’ll flourish.
Firstly, you had me at drinks and donuts. For those who don't know about you or what you're up to, let's fill them in, shall we? Tell me about Blind Bison and Proof Donuts and where the inspiration came from for both.
Who doesn't love drinks and/or donuts, right? We'll start with The Blind Bison. This is a pop-up style bar business with a nod to both historical and modern-day speakeasies. The Blind Bison was created in 2019 by Bryan Taylor and I to showcase a different style of cocktail culture that wasn't necessarily of suit to the restaurants we had been working at during this time. Proof Donuts and Coffee, on the other hand, was the product of persistence and watching another friend struggle to get his dream off the ground. The mastermind behind the dough is my business partner and long-time friend, Klay Welter. Klay had been trying to make these awesome donuts for years and would fall in and out of trying to make a donut shop come to fruition. I wanted to see him make this a reality, and sometimes all we need is a little help. I'm beyond gracious that he's shared this talent with me and I hope my background in the restaurant/hospitality industry helps make this even bigger than we can imagine.
As an entrepreneur, what's the biggest risk with starting a company? And is that risk ironically the most enjoyable part of the whole process?
I truly believe that the biggest risk someone can take with starting a company is not calculating that risk before they take it. Had I just gone into something without weighing the risks and rewards, that would’ve felt like a terrible decision. However, being able to look at the whole situation and understand the risk that is present gives the risk taker the confidence to make the most of it. I wouldn't say it's the most enjoyable part, personally. I do find joy in it, just not as much as the entire process itself.
Like a Montana growing season (challenging and unpredictable), tell me how our climate is a challenge for you in the kitchen with dough. What are the main things you worry about and how do you counteract them to protect your product?
I'm not going to act like an expert and say I know exactly what makes what happen, but I do know that when we have all the seasons in one week, the donut making process is incredibly different day to day. Humidity plays a huge role in the proofing process of the dough. Trying to control this without an insulated proofer becomes a challenge, but Klay knows a lot about how to bounce back from certain challenges. For now, I'm learning as much as I can, and I've got a great person teaching me. Attention to detail and the way things feel are good indicators if anything needs changing.
I love your speakeasy approach to specialty cocktails. Can you shed some light on this pop-up type business model for your cocktail bar?
We pitched our idea to some friends, (I say pitch, but it was just a loud conversation) and we landed a gig for our first event that October. We had about a month to put together a cool little weekend centered around classic cocktails, exciting riffs of our own, and some interesting techniques that are a little tedious for normal restaurant service. From there, we decided to theme the weekend, primarily to help us with drink ideas and to tie the whole event together. To make the experience somewhat informative—and sustainable if we want to continue doing this—our menus were going to walk our guests through decades of cocktail history, starting with the days of the Wild West. The speakeasy vibe gave us the opportunity to make it feel exclusive, though it was open to the public and we made our debut in the Buffalo Room at Plaza Arcade. We then reached out to some awesome members of the local music scene and decided we would host three nights of live, local music for our guests to enjoy. Our pop-up concept eventually evolved into an events and marketing business that has been used to throw festivals and concerts, as well as to have helped garner attention for multiple restaurants across the city, while giving local artists and musicians a new platform to perform from that is constantly changing.
It's obvious that you thought that both of these businesses would jive well with the Billings community. What about our community gave you the confidence to pursue these dreams here?
Our community supports whatever you give it, as long as you give it your all. It has been incredibly gratifying for people to seek out products from both of these businesses, whether it be to support local or because they actually enjoy what we are presenting them. There is so much passion and drive in Billings. Shedding a little light on that helps the entire community blossom. Neither of these businesses would be where they are if it wasn't for the good nature of those who have supported both ventures endlessly. Also, people are crazy for donuts around here, holy smokes!
I suspect that drinks and donuts spell out the perfect party. Are you or will you take reservations for events with both of these businesses? If so, how can someone go about reserving your services and how far in advance do they need to be prepared in order to enjoy your products at their special occasion?
That sounds like a great idea! I can't say that we've honestly thought about operating them together by appointment, but we have brought them together to collaborate for certain pop-ups. In November and December of 2021, we did a nine day brunch series at Harper and Madison with eight different chefs, Blind Bison cocktails, and Proof Donuts! As of now, we are still working on getting our preorder system set up as we start to move into our new location. I hope to have a better answer to this question soon!