If there’s one thing Stevensville’s Cody Omlid hates, it’s being idle. He says he has to have something going on all the time. From the time he was a young teen, he found ways to keep busy with sports, art and working. It was work that shaped his ideas of the restaurant business and it’s his drive to keep creating that keeps his businesses growing. This past February, Omlid was honored as Business Person of the Year by the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Omlid was raised in Stevensville and graduated from Stevensville High School in 1986. He had a lawn mowing business when he was in grade school and then began working at the Fireside Sandwich and Pizza Shop when he was a sophomore. These two jobs influenced much of his early businesses.
Omlid went to the University of Montana and graduated with a degree in teaching and one in business. But he says his best education has been his experiences in life. After graduation, he moved away twice, once to Seattle and once again to Denver. “But the best thing that ever happened to me was moving back home,” he said.
Omlid went to work teaching at Stevensville School where he taught government and US history, three years in middle school and four years as a high school teacher. But with teaching, immediate results aren’t always seen, it’s more a matter of increments and Omlid likes to see immediate results.
“I like the hand-on aspect of a restaurant,” he said. “And the adrenaline rush when you are super busy, that’s hard to beat.”
While teaching, he began his landscaping business and that taught him that working for himself a lot of the time was better than working for someone else. But he was always on the go, even though his creative side did get to design.
In 1998, Sam Rivera decided to sell his business, Sam’s Deli. Omlid thought this would be a good opportunity. His father-in-law, Jack Filcher, cosigned the loan for him and his first business was established, Kodiak Jax. Located at 514 Main Street in Stevensville, the building needed a lot of work as did the menu. Omlid enlisted the aid of fellow teachers to help with the remodel and added new items to the menu, including pizza. He made a deal with Super 1 – they had just opened their new store – to make his pizza dough so that his dough would always be consistent.
“At that time, there were four other pizza places in Stevensville, including two chains,” he said.
Omlid began Kodiak Jax with a small menu and learned quickly what worked and what didn’t work. He expanded into sandwiches and salads when he realized that pizza was more of a nighttime order and not a lunchtime order. He also put his stamp on the building with some of his paintings and the large, carved bear outside. In fact, Omlid has carved several large bears that are around the various businesses.
A few years later, Omlid and his brother, Luke, partnered up to establish Kodiak Jax II. At first the business was in Corvallis but they soon moved to Hamilton to the location at 109 S. 1st. Although the pizza and sandwiches are the same, there is also a salad bar in Hamilton, along with a casino. The decor is much the same but Omlid said he doesn’t own the building so he’s not as enthusiastic about doing special things to the building.
Once that business was up and running, he turned back to Stevensville for his next business, CJ’s Den. He partnered with Jon Vercruyssen, who Omlid said is great with customers and the casino. Omlid remodeled the old gas station into a restaurant that features everything from hamburgers and chicken to soup and salad, just no pizza.
“It was a risk to open another restaurant just two blocks away from Kodiak Jax,” said Omlid. “But my partner really made it work.”
One would think that when everything is up and running, Omlid would like to take some time off. Not so. He no longer had the landscaping business and he wanted something more to do. “I like the creative process of getting a business up and running. Coming up with a building design and making that work, that’s what I really like to do.”
He next turned his sights on Florence and the old Rhino’s Gas Station building. Much like Sam’s Deli, the building had gone through several remodels and additions and it took some figuring to make it all work. But the Bear’s Lair II, located at 5493 US Highway 93 N in Florence, right at the light, is up and running. Corey Walker, who has worked for Omlid for six years, is the manager.
Once the Florence restaurant was up and running, Omlid turned his attention back to Stevensville and the rebuilding of Kodiak Jax. Many of his teacher friends that helped him remodel the building when he first began were on hand to help tear the building down. The rebuild is a two-phase project with the kitchen and a small seating area already done. The new part that is currently being built will double the size of seating in the old building and have an additional meeting room that will be able to seat up to 30 people. While he’s hoping to have the new part done late this summer, Kodiak Jax is still open for delivery, take out and some dine in.
Omlid’s pizzas are delivered as far south as Bell Crossing on the east side of the valley and Indian Prairie Loop on the west side of the Valley, all the way north to Trader Brothers, north of Florence on Hwy 93. Stevensville patrons can order from Kodiak Jax while Florence patrons order from Bear’s Lair. Hamilton also delivers.
While Omlid oversees the operations, his wife, Tonya, is the bookkeeper for the businesses. Both of their kids, Alexa and Jace, have worked in the restaurants. Alexa is in school in the medical field while Jace has managed Kodiak Jax. In addition, there are approximately 85 employees working for Omlid and his partners, including 16 full-time employees.
Omlid concluded with this: “Stevensville amazes me how a bunch of restaurants unique to the town can serve a town of this size and they are all supported by local people. It’s awesome.”
The phone number for Kodiak Jax is 777-0910; Kodiak Jax II in Hamilton is 363-5695; CJ’s Den is 777-5605, and Bear’s Lair II is 406-925-1499.