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Members like Discovery Center

Creating opportunities—and helping with homes—for the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center and Last Best Pizza

Breathtaking beauty…with a slice to go

 

Montana always has a few surprises.

Take, for instance, Glacier National Park. Everyone who makes the trek is filled with a mountain of expectations. Perhaps they anticipate a journey into some of the most picturesque and humbling beauty that this country has to offer. Or a glimpse into the history of not just the region but the billions of years of history of our fair planet. Or maybe they’re preparing for a firsthand look at the growing impact humanity—and civilization—has had on our climate and our most sacred, pristine wildernesses.

What visitors might not be expecting is some great pizza.

 

 

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this was going to come to fruition in this little area in this kind of setting.”

 

Traveling on U.S. Route 2, just before you hit Glacier National Park, you’ll pass the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center. And inside, you’ll find a gift shop, educational programs, shopping, ice cream, guided tours…and Last Best Pizza, where you can indulge in some glorious, hot, and delicious concoction known as a “Bear Bait” pizza with mozzarella, artichoke, roasted tomato, kalamata olives, red onion, and green pepper. Or maybe something more like the Carnivore, which features mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, sausage, ham, and…oh, are you getting hungry?

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The aptly named pizzeria is, in fact, the last place you’d expect to find a killer pie. It’s also likely the last pizza you’ll see until you return from the glacier wilderness—and likely hit on the way out.

“We were shooting for a like a wild, wild west pizzeria,” says Last Best Pizza chef Nick Long.

He has been working with pizza for most of his professional career, starting back in Michigan. He came out to West Glacier to work as camp chef for Discovery Center owners Eric and Aubrie Loroña five or six years ago and worked his way up. “Opening my own place has been a dream of mine for years. I’m doing what I love—and that’s…big. It’s big.”

Part of the draw for both the Loroñas and Long was the need for more food options in their neck of the woods, so to speak. While there are only around 500 permanent residents throughout the year, tourism can see those numbers swell to up to three million tourists…all along what Long calls “this little five-mile corridor.”

 

“There’s not a lot of food options up here in the canyon, so we just felt that we had to at least give it a shot—at least for the local crowd"

 

“We wanted something that somebody could come on vacation and love just as much as somebody who lives here year-round.”

Eric Loroña wholeheartedly agrees. “There’s not a lot of food options up here in the canyon, so we just felt that we had to at least give it a shot—at least for the local crowd, because I mean, we feel it. Like, we love living up here but going to Columbia Falls to get any kind of food all the time, it’s a lot.”

But it wasn’t just the lack of dining options that encouraged the Loroñas to help Long realize his gourmet pizza dream.

“Montana is a place of opportunity. Like, if you have an idea, a business, some drive—like you can do that,” says Eric. Because he and his wife employ the entire staff, they were in a position to help their employees beyond business or profits. For the Loroñas, opportunities are meant to be shared with others rather than hoarded for personal gain.

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“Because our whole point in the starting this was to give ourselves a life change opportunity to kind of live outside the box, you know. And once we were established and figured out, ‘OK, we can live in this space that’s a little bit different than the norm, but you know, it’s a great opportunity for our family,’ and then Aubrie and I came together and were like, ‘OK, now we’ve done that for ourselves, let’s try to give that opportunity to other people.”

Long is the first to note how unusual this is and how fortunate he is in his employers. “Eric and Aubrie take care of their employees very well, you know, which is not something you find a lot nowadays—especially in a company this large.”

Ensuring the happiness and quality of life for employees isn’t just about helping them realize their dreams of opening a super-delicious pizzeria, though. It requires things about the realities of living in an area that offers little in the way of affordable housing. Homeownership isn’t just a challenge; it’s almost impossible for those who are looking to buy their first home and don’t have nearly enough money.  

 “And Whitefish Credit Union was hugely instrumental in making that happen for us,” points out Aubrie, “because that’s how we got the loans to buy some of these in-town properties that help these people that are here moving from kind of the seasonal workforce to planting roots but not really having the capital to buy a home on their own, even entry-level.”

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 “Afford housing is always a problem, it’s still a problem,” adds Eric. “And I think as a business owner, if you don’t foresee some of those things, then you get stuck…it’s better business-wise and for us and everything to take care of your good people and create these opportunities for them and 401Ks and finding housing and all. It’s way better to spend the time and effort to do that than replace those people.

“The job market, they have high expectations of their employers and what employee perks are and how their quality of life is gonna be, and if—as an employer—you’re not buying into that, then you’re not going to get the good people.”

 

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this was going to come to fruition in this little area in this kind of setting.”

 

It’s this kind of perspective, this kind of philosophy, that separates the Loroñas from many other businesses. For them, it’s about expanding in ways that help not only their employees but also their community. And simply by taking these steps and creating pathways for others, they’re already shifting the dynamic of their own business in a way that benefits everyone. It creates a stronger and more sustainable community…not to mention those looking for an absolutely delicious piece of pizza.

Everybody wins.

And Long sounds like he might be the happiest of them all.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this was going to come to fruition in this little area in this kind of setting.”

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Thinking of planning a trip up to Glacier National Park? Hungry? Check out the Crown of the Continent Discovery Center—and Last Best Pizza—here.

 

 

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