n the past few months, Flathead Valley residents who drive the length of the west shore of Flathead Lake toward Polson likely have noticed some large new billboards telling them where to find “the best broasted chicken on Flathead Lake.”
The braggadocio is meant to direct folks toward the newest venture run by S&K Gaming, a subsidiary owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that also operates the Grey Wolf Peak Casino in Evaro and Kwataqnuk and Polson Bay Marina in Polson.
The Big Arm Marina and Grill operates on property the tribe purchased in May 2014 off U.S. 93. Since then, the company has been making continuous upgrades to the site consistent with its master plan.
“I think jobs are important, but this is about economic development,” said Brian Miller, chief executive officer of S&K Gaming. “S&K Gaming is a wholly owned subsidiary of the CSKT, so our goal is to provide a return for the shareholder, which is the tribe. Our business venture is for-profit, and we hope to provide a revenue stream.”
This past year they added a porch to the restaurant, increased the available parking and added about 30 recreational-vehicle spaces, Miller said. He said the RV spaces weren’t quite ready for the peak season in 2017, but now they will be ready to fill them up and see how popular they get in 2018.
In the months to come, S&K plans to add approximately 15 cabins scattered about the property. Miller said they would soon put the cabin construction project out to bid and expect work to go on through the winter with the goal of having at least a few cabins ready to rent out on Memorial Day weekend.
“The intent is for every cabin to have a nice deck and view of the lake and be able to enjoy the scenic beauty that the property is able to offer,” he said.
The site offers fantastic views of the lake, Big Arm Bay and the visually striking Chief Cliff just a few miles away.
Aside from broasted chicken, the restaurant also offers classics such as fried mushrooms, fish and chips, burgers, pizza and prime rib. They also have a special breakfast menu they serve on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.
Phase 3 of the project is to add an event center that can hold somewhere in the vicinity of 150 to 200 people and will complement the rest of the site, but Miller cautioned that was likely still at least a couple of years down the road.
“That would be one of the last phases of developing the property,” Miller said.
To date, S&K has invested about $2 million in renovating the restaurant and upgrading the property. The company also has revamped the marina, adding a fuel station that Miller noted would be the farthest north a boat can fuel up on reservation shores.
Sheryl Miller is the food and beverage manager at the new restaurant, which is in the building that used to be the Sunny Shores resort. The building now has a mostly new interior. She said the restaurant has been able to stay out of the seasonal slumps by ingratiating themselves with the locals.
“I would say 50 percent of my customers are from the Big Arm-Elmo-Dayton area and Polson in the wintertime,” Miller said. “The locals love this place.”
She said the location, with close-up views of Flathead Lake, are a draw no matter the time of year. They get a lot more traffic during the summer, but they have been able to find enough staff to keep the facility manned year-round.
Right now, the restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but open the rest of the week and all weekend. She said they specialize in pizza and broasted chicken.
She said the biggest challenge in running a restaurant in Big Arm is finding enough reliable employees. Many folks are only here seasonably, and they need six to 10 to staff the place even in the slow time of year.
They also have used the new space to host a couple of large Christmas parties this year, each with more than 60 people.
“It’s going very well, it’s very seasonal but we are very family-oriented,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
More information can be found at www.bigarmresort.com.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.