Five on Black – 325 N. Higgins Ave – 3850 S Reserve St #140
It’s hard to believe only three years have passed since Five on Black opened its doors on North Higgins Ave. in downtown Missoula. Word of mouth spread quickly. Right from the start, lunch hour lines spilled onto the sidewalk out front. By combining the flavors of Brazil with the convenience of fast-casual dining, owner Tom Snyder had created something truly original, yet still an unmistakable fit for Missoula.
“That’s how I ate every single day,” Tom says. He’s referring to the fast-casual concept that marries the speed of fast food with the quality ingredients that customers could normally only expect at a restaurant offering full table service. As a student, he says he often needed a quick meal before taking off on a hike or heading to the river. It had to be healthy and couldn’t break the bank. As a result, Tom found himself frequenting just a couple of local spots again and again. He knew Missoula would support another eatery producing healthy, delicious food for active people.
Meanwhile, Brazilian steakhouses had been quietly growing in popularity in North America. Merging that national cuisine with the fast-casual concept intrigued Snyder.
So he went to the source. You could call it research or adventure. You’d be right either way. In 2011, after he graduated from the University of Montana, Tom flew to Brazil. He spent months taking in the beaches and mountains and mystique. Needless to say, he ate a lot of the food. He noticed that in Brazil, people approached eating differently than they did back home. The Brazilian ethos inspired the words you’ll find on the sign at the new Five on Black restaurants: “Snag a plate. Take a bite. Tell a joke. Learn something new about the person next to you. Live a story worth telling.”
In Brazil people took more time with their meals. The goal wasn’t simply to pack the food away as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next item on life’s never-ending to-do list. The mealtime culture that Tom encountered in Brazil inspired the seating layout you’ll find in Five on Black today. While there are still traditional tables available for groups, much of the seating space is at long counters, where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with anyone who sits down nearby.
The importance of face-to-face, living, breathing human interactions extends far beyond the Five on Black seating area. While Five on Black has grown rapidly to employ 56 people (they’re opening their fifth restaurant in Denver in August), Tom describes the camaraderie of employees and management in plainspoken terms. “We’re family,” he says simply.
Tom truly approaches business that way, promoting from within the company as Five on Black expands. He describes a sense of loyalty in the establishments he oversees, and takes responsibility to see that it’s maintained. “The only way you do that is proving your loyalty to them.”
Not so long ago, Tom demonstrated that loyalty while up to his elbows concocting the spicy coconut sauce. He toiled to streamline prep procedures and pulled the unforgettable pao di queijo cheese bread from the oven. Now he finds himself fortunate to be in a role more typical for an owner. He enjoyed the excitement of leading from the middle of the whirlwind for a while, but the long hours were draining. Tom recalls waking from an unplanned nap on a stairwell above the restaurant. With those days behind him, he’s now able to settle in for something that more closely resembles a normal work week, as well as a family life. He and his wife are the proud parents of a two-month-old.
So come on in and meet the family – the Five on Black family, that is. Whether you’re in Montana or Colorado, you’ll find employees who bring the energy and passion for their work that they learned from Tom. And once you sit down, enjoy your meal the Brazilian way, sharing something with the person next to you. And learning something in return.