Case Study — Mike Nelson, The Northern Hotel, Billings MT

"Joel at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters was willing to take the time and risk the expense to help me develop exactly what I wanted at The Northern." Mike Nelson, The Northern Hotel, Billings, MT


When Mike Nelson reopened the historic, Northern Hotel in Billings, Montana,, he chose Rock Creek Coffee Roasters over all of the big-name coffee companies available. After years of research and communication during the hotel restoration, Rock Creek Coffee worked carefully with Mike to create an exclusive blend of coffee specifically for Bernie’s Diner and coffee for the hotel’s restaurant, TEN, and its other retail-outlets. Now, customers rave about the delicious, local coffee they can’t get anywhere else at THE Billings gathering spot.

Visit Bernie's Diner at the Northern Hotel in Billings Montana for a great cup of coffee!


After purchasing The Northern Hotel in 2009, owner Mike Nelson started the restoration process of this Billings’ landmark. He had to spend months away from him family (who were in Las Vegas) while taking care of all of the thousands of details of restoring the old hotel. At this time, he needed a place to take a break from the worksite with a good cup of coffee. Plus, he had to find unique, local and delicious coffee to offer his customers at the hotel’s two restaurants and four retail outlets.


During a break from the hotel restoration, Mike walked down the block and discovered Rock Creek Coffee Roasters. There, owners Joel and Peggy Gargaro greeted him with a warm welcome and delicious cup of their daily, signature brew. Mike then made daily visits to Rock Creek Coffee, drinking various coffees and talking to Joel and Peggy, who became close friends. From 2009 to the opening of the hotel in 2013, Joel and Mike spent hours discussing a “coffee dream environment” at The Northern. “Joel and Peggy kind of adopted me after they saw me sitting alone in the shop,” says Mike. “They took me under their wing, and we became great pals.” And although Mike was pursued by the big coffee chains and four or five local coffee dens, he decided to have Rock Creek Coffee Roasters provide the coffee for the hotel.

“Joel and I spent four years planning what the coffee environment would be like in the hotel. He was willing to take the time and risk the expense to help me develop exactly what I wanted at The Northern, states Mike.” “You can't just come in and throw a coffeepot in a corner and then expect to have a great cup of coffee coming out of every different, little venue. If you're going to serve a cup of coffee after a $150.00 meal, it's got to be a little different. The presentation might be a bit different, and the flavor profile is definitely going to be different than the cup of coffee that you serve in a paper cup from the lobby, which we also do.”


After years of research and reviewing over 500 possibilities, Joel created “Bernie’s Blend” for the diner at the hotel named after Mike’s mother. “It was specifically created to be served in a big, 24 ounce cup, and it’s beautiful,” states Mike. “People love it and often mention it online as, ‘The best cup of coffee in town,’ ‘the coffee is incredible,’ and more.”

Joel helped Mike choose all of the coffee equipment for The Northern and worked with the machine service people to ensure everything worked accordingly for the best coffee possible. He created a special espresso roast for the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, TEN, named after Mike’s father. “We have exclusive recipes for TEN in our espresso and in our French press and other coffees,” states Mike.

Today, Rock Creek Coffee provides coffee for The Northern’s four retail outlets for brewed coffee and a fifth, where the coffee beans are sold in the gift shop. Joel, Peggy and Mike are still great friends and love to discuss all things coffee.

About Rock Creek Coffee Roasters

Peggy and Joel Gargaro moved from California to Montana and fell in love with the beautiful scenery, friendly people… and the thought of owning our own coffee shop in this wonderful area. Their dream came true in 2004 when they opened Rock Creek Coffee Roasters. As coffee lovers, they carefully purchase the best coffee beans from sustainable, high-quality suppliers worldwide. Then, they roast the coffee in-house in small batches to ensure the freshness and quality of their beans (this is one of the reasons they won the Golden Bean Silver Medal in 2015). The Gargaros are an integral part of the community and work with local businesses and organizations, participate in regional charity events and even create joint products (like their new coffee soaps) with fellow entrepreneurs. Order online at or stop by the store for a friendly, Montana welcome and a fresh cup of coffee you’ll love!