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Like many people in Bozeman, Hal Pedersen wound up with a frozen turkey after spending enough money at a local grocery store.

Unlike many people in Bozeman, Pedersen owns Taco Montes. The restaurant gets lots of produce from Town and Country, which hosts an annual turkey number program: spend a certain amount of money at a T&C location in November, get a free turkey.

So Pedersen spent money at Town and Country and got one turkey — and then another, and then another. About seven years ago, an employee at Taco Montes suggested they make the turkeys into a free Thanksgiving meal, and Turkey Montes was born.

“We really like giving back in any way we can,” said Pedersen, who has worked at Taco Montes since it opened and has owned it since 2017. “We are a pretty community-driven establishment.”

He brines the turkeys — some from the Town and Country turkey program, some donated from community members or Taco Montes’ neighboring restaurant University Burger — in a brine mix that includes apple cider for a unique flavor. Then, in part because the restaurant doesn’t have an oven and in part because it just tastes good, the turkeys go into the deep fryer before being plated up with sides like mashed potatoes and stuffing. The entire meal except the stuffing is gluten free.

“We’ve had families come in, we’ve had a lot of locals and college students who aren’t going home for Thanksgiving,” Pedersen said.

Taco Montes is one of a handful of organizations in Bozeman that will be providing free Thanksgiving meals to people who aren’t able to make or afford their own turkey-centric meal, or aren’t able to travel back to family for the holiday.

Fork and Spoon, Montana’s only pay-what-you-can restaurant, will again be hosting a free Thanksgiving meal this Thursday. The restaurant will also be making roughly 175 Thanksgiving dinners to be delivered to people unable to leave home by HRDC and the Salvation Army.

“A lot of our products are (donated) from local sources,” said Leah Smutko, the head chef and manager at Fork and Spoon. The turkeys come from the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, cooking oils are donated from Bozeman Oil and Vinegar, and MSU’s Towne’s Harvest Garden donates potatoes for the meal.

“It’s the only way that we would be able to cook for 300 people without losing our entire budget,” she said.

In addition to the donated ingredients, culinary students at Gallatin College will be making more than 250 pies for Fork and Spoon’s buy-a-pie program, a major fundraiser, and the free Thanksgiving day meal.

Just a few blocks away from Fork and Spoon on 7th Avenue, the Bozeman Real Estate Group has teamed up with barbecue restaurant Bourbon to provide more meals to the Bozeman community on Thanksgiving.

Bourbon, which is in the Aspen Crossing building, opened at the tail end of summer.

“We’re excited that we can contribute a little bit,” said Jay Thane, the owner of Bourbon. “A space is what was really needed and we have that, and we were going to be closed on Thanksgiving anyway, so we’re just super happy that we can be a part of it.”

Thane said he wanted to do some form of a free or cost-reduced meal for Thanksgiving, but because his restaurant was so new, he wasn’t sure how it would work. That’s when Bozeman Real Estate Group stepped in. The group has hosted Thanksgiving meals around Bozeman for years.

“We’re proud and happy to be part of it and hope that in the years to come we’ll be a bigger part of it” Thane said. “Every community needs something like this.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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