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Thursday, March 22, 2018

photos courtesy of Catherine Patterson Malarchickphotos courtesy of Catherine Patterson Malarchick

Family's love of food inspires Glendive native to launch line of pepper products (slideshow 2)

By Cindy Mullet

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Gourmet pepper and the railroad find common ground in a Kalispell woman’s new business venture.

Catherine Patterson Malarchick grew up in Glendive where her father A.A. “Pat” Patterson and her brother Steve Patterson created recipes for two blends of gourmet peppers which Malarchick now markets in venues across Montana including Glendive’s Enchanted Living.

Malarchick said her great grandfather homesteaded on Deer Creek in 1906. Her grandfather, Byard Patterson, moved from the homestead to Glendive where he went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and where he and his wife, Edna Patterson, built and ran the Rock Log Lodge in Glendive.

Her father and brother followed in Byard’s footsteps, both working for the railroad until they retired. While he worked for the railroad, Pat’s passion was good food. He was always looking for the best places to eat on his regular run between Glendive and Forsyth.

“He was a big man, and he loved to eat,” Malarchick noted.

The NP and Great Northern Railroad had alternate year contracts with the Sidney sugar factory and on the NP years, Malarchick worked in Sidney and often ate at the Triangle Club where the cook had developed a wonderful Roquefort dressing. He set a goal to obtain the recipe and succeeded. The family still uses it, she related.

Pat also loved good seasoning. Dissatisfied with available pepper blends, he set out to make something better. Refinishing furniture was another of his hobbies and on visits to antique stores he found an old wooden, hand-cranked coffee grinder that he bought and used for his first experiments.

“Once he got going on something he went full bore,” she noted and his pepper blend was no exception. After a lot of experimenting on his family, he was finally satisfied with a hand-ground blend of colorful peppercorns and dried veggies that became known as “Papa Pat’s Pepper,” He never sold the pepper but often gave it as gifts and the family always used it, she said.

Her brother Steve shared a railroad career with his father and also shared his interest in pepper blends. He created, Hotshot, a fiery blend engineered to be really hot. He ratcheted up the BTUs with a crush of the world’s hottest peppers: Habanero, Chipotle Morita, Arbol, Jalapeño, Thai, Smoked Serrano, Bhut Jolokia and Red Chile. 

“Possibly just short of a train wreck, this pepper blend’s ETA is faster than you think!  It’s for the serious pepper-lover,” Malarchick notes in her promotional material for the peppers.

While neither Pat nor Steve ever marketed their peppers, Pat always wanted a family pepper business and pushed his daughter to start selling the blend. Malarchick came home from work one day when he was visiting to find a big electric coffee grinder in her shop, a broad hint for her, she said.

While working in the school system in Kalispell, Malarchick didn’t have time to start a pepper business. After retiring she managed an independent bookstore for three years and that kept her busy, but when the book store closed, she started thinking about her dad’s pepper, she said.

Since she had never owned a business she faced a huge learning curve but knew she wanted to honor her father, who had died in 2013, by marketing the pepper he had so carefully developed, she said.

In choosing a name for her company she looked to her father’s railroad background and came up with Gandy Dancer Pepper. The name is “rooted in three generations of food-loving Montanans, born and steeped in railroad tradition.  Working ‘out on the road’ (railroad speak) meant a perpetual quest for the tastiest food, whether it be discovered in roadside diners, dark saloons, boarding houses or “depot beaneries” (more railroad lingo),” she explains on the company’s web page.

“Although Kalispell has been home to me now for almost 40 years, I have always valued my small town heritage and when naming the company wanted to honor both Eastern Montana’s railroad history and my own family’s background,” she wrote in an email to the Ranger-Review.

Knowing that she wanted the product to have a professional look she contacted the best artist she knew and commissioned a painting to use for the label and then found a graphic artist who came up with the idea of using a silhouette of the gandy dancer at work, she said.

From there she worked with county and state officials on labeling and other requirements, found a place to grind the peppers, figured out packaging and looked for outlets for her products, she said.

She generally grinds small batches of peppers every six to eight weeks working from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each batch doesn’t take long to grind but measuring takes time and bottling is a slow, arduous process, she noted.

In looking at marketing, she decided to start locally and found a few key outlets in Kalispell then expanded to Glendive’s Enchanted Living, Terry’s Prairie Unique and some other small towns along the highline. Knowing she wanted to place the produce more widely, she contacted a broker in Great Falls and now has the peppers in more than 40 Montana locations, she said.

Her biggest surprise has been how well the Hotshot pepper sells. She knew there was a trend moving toward heat in peppers, but didn’t realize how strong the trend was. Each bottle comes with a little warning about the heat, but that doesn’t discourage buyers, she said.

Malarchick has no plans to deviate from the traditional family recipes but is thinking about adding to the line with some spice rubs or a Bloody Mary mix, she said.   

Reach Cindy Mullet at

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