(Editor’s note: Benno Garwood, one of McKenzie County’s millennial movers and shakers penned this story for Beautiful Badlands ND)
Hospitality brought me to Watford City. And hospitality has kept me here.
I grew up in a small farming community in central Alberta, a town much like Watford City. Surrounded by beautiful wheat, flax, and canola fields, just at the edge of the badlands, an hour from the big city.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
After graduating high school, I was gone as fast as I could get out of there.
I lived a few years in Calgary and eventually fell in love with a beautiful Montana girl. We moved to Bozeman in late 2009, right in the thick of the recession. We both worked multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.
Opportunities improved, and after ten-plus years in the restaurant business, I found an opportunity to move into the hospitality business. After a couple years, one of the hospitality management companies in The Bakken offered me a job in early 2015. And so my wife and I packed up and made the move to Watford City.
It became very clear, very quickly, that we were in a special town.
My experience was much like that I’ve heard from many others. The first few weeks in the Bakken were an adjustment. I remember coming around a corner on the drive from Bozeman and seeing the horizon lit up by gas flares in the darkness of the late evening. “We’re officially in the Bakken,” I said. “We sure are,” my wife replied.
It was “otherworldly.” And this was five or 6 months into the so-called “bust”. One realizes immediately that this is in a unique place. Depending on how you take it, this can feel either very exciting or a little daunting. For us, it was a mixture of both.
An Outlaw’s Opportunity
In mid-2016, a new opportunity presented itself. The incredible staff and ownership at Six Shooter Hospitality took me in, hiring me as general manager of Outlaws’ Bar & Grill. In this new role my opportunities to get to know the Watford City community grew exponentially. And what an honor it’s been!
Every day I interact with the members of this community in the dining room of Outlaws’ Bar & Grill – lifelong locals and recent transplants alike. Our staff is made up of individuals from all over the country, Thailand, Mexico, and, of course, Canada.
If you take the time to listen to the stories being told around you, you will hear plans for fresh starts, struggle dealing with change, and all the beautifully mundane details of soccer practices, parent-teacher conferences, and so on. It’s different, but it’s enjoyable the same.
Yeah, Watford feels like home because the geography is similar and it’s about the same size as the town I grew up in, but that’s not what makes home a home. It’s one thing to build a town. It’s another thing to build a community. It’s difficult to quantify community, but you know it when you feel it. And you feel a deep sense of community everywhere in western North Dakota.
Yesterday it was a beautiful hike along the Maah Daah Hey Trail in the badlands.
Today it’s an outstanding meal at any one of the incredible restaurants in the area.
This summer, it will be the weekly McKenzie County farmers market.
Next fall we’ll support the volunteer fire department at the Big Buck Contest, and at Christmas, we’ll shiver as we enjoy the parade of lights.
And that only scratches the surface of the many ways to participate in the community.
Hospitality brought us here and hospitality keeps us here – industry and community. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Here are free McKenzie County attractions that have attracted people such as Benno