Faces of the Boom: Restaurateur making big investment in Williston

Marcus Jundt, chairman and CEO of Williston Holding Co., poses at Williston Brewing Company on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, a restaurant he plans to expand nationally. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – An entrepreneur who already has invested millions in Williston plans to make the boomtown the namesake of a national restaurant chain.

Marcus Jundt, a Minneapolis native who has built more than 20 businesses, first saw the potential in Williston when he visited three years ago.

“What I saw was mind-boggling,” said Jundt, 48. “It was just amazing what was going on up here.”

While waiting for a table at the Williston Applebee’s for two hours on a Monday night, the co-founder of the Kona Grill chain decided Williston was the place for his next restaurant venture.

Jundt and his business partners formed Williston Holding Co., with Jundt serving as chairman and CEO and the largest shareholder. They plan to take the company public next year, with Williston as its headquarters.

Together, Jundt says they’ve invested $15 million in Williston so far, including opening Williston Brewing Company, a restaurant and bar Jundt plans to expand in North Dakota and other states.

“We wanted to incorporate the name of the town, we wanted the locals to be proud that this is going to be a national chain and the first unit’s here and the company’s headquartered here,” he said.

Williston Holding Co. also owns three other Williston restaurants, including Doc Holliday’s Roadhouse, another new addition to town that may also expand to other cities.

Jundt, who most recently lived in Arizona, said he has a core belief that he needs to live in Williston to do business there and bought a house in September 2012.

“If you truly, truly want to participate in this boom, you have to live here,” Jundt said. “You have to be where the action is.”

Now Jundt has aspirations to be the growing city’s mayor, with plans to begin formally campaigning in January.

“This community is sitting on one of the greatest natural resources in North America,” Jundt said. “There is potential to do some truly wonderful things in this community.”

Jundt employs nearly 300 people at the four restaurants, which also include Gramma Sharon’s and J Dub’s, two existing Williston restaurants. Staff turnover is the main challenge in Williston, but Jundt said he’s noticing that improve.

“If you have a popular spot, people know that’s where you can make good money,” he said.

Williston Brewing Company has more than a one-hour wait on Friday and Saturday nights for five hours. Jundt said vendors tell him the restaurant is the No. 1 volume sit-down restaurant in North Dakota with the largest wine cellar in the state.

Jundt chose the El Rancho Hotel, a longtime local landmark, to remodel into the 11,900-square-foot Williston Brewing Company because it’s a longtime local icon.

“If you talk to any locals, the center of town was here at the El Rancho,” he said.

The décor, designed by his partner, Perry Brush, who formerly worked for P.F. Chang’s, is both Western and contemporary, with revolvers as the door handles, mounted animal heads on the wall shot by Jundt himself and bar that is a redwood tree split in half.

The restaurant also boasts 90-inch TVs, a $100,000 video wall, a mechanical bull, more than 115 beers to choose from and more than 140 wines, including some bottles that sell for more than $1,000.

“I’m always for things that are bigger. Bigger TVs, bigger bar,” Jundt said.

The company is looking at locations between Bismarck, Minot and Sidney, Mont., for future restaurants.

The publicly traded company will eventually have more than restaurants, possibly including other types of infrastructure or apartments.

“We have a completely open mind,” Jundt said. “There are so many opportunities here. It’s exciting.”

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