BOZEMAN - There’s no shortage of brunch in Bozeman, but one little Main Street cafe is slinging out more than eggs and toast: at least 30 Nova Cafe employees have gotten tattoos commemorating their time at the restaurant.
For Nova’s employees, the story first started in the kitchen around a decade ago, and it ended under the needle.
“We were in the kitchen working one day,” recalls Nova Cafe owner Serena Rundberg, “and two eggs and two pieces of bacon landed on a plate in the exact shape of a skull and crossbones. And we were thinking like, ‘Woah, that would make an amazing tattoo.’”
“I mean, it was a little radical at the time,” muses longtime employee Kristin Brownlow, “that it would actually turn into a tattoo.”
After handing the idea over to Rundberg’s tattoo artist friend Ashley Weisel to come up with a design, the bacon and eggs symbol soon became a sizzling new trend for cafe employees.
Rundberg says she never had a long-term plan for the tattoo past the initial idea, and it’s certainly not required for cafe employees. But it’s become a marketing tool and, in some ways, Nova’s brand.
Now you can see the iconic eggs and bacon on stickers and shirts worn by Nova employees, along with the tagline “Killer Breakfast.”
Each tattoo is unique to the person getting it, with eggs and bacon flying triumphantly on a pirate ship’s flag, flopped on top of a waffle, wearing a hat and smoke a cigarette, “listening” to music, laid among a bed of roses, or sizzling in a frying pan.
“When the tattoo idea came up,” says Brownlow, who was in the kitchen when the idea was first conceived, “I wasn’t even at all ashamed to be like, ‘Yeah!’ I loved the owners. I didn’t even think twice about it.”
Rundberg has tattoos covering both of her arms, but she says there’s a special meaning for each piece.
“It’s such a permanent thing, ya know? And you really – I personally really have to believe in something to put it on my arm or put it on my body. And I think other people feel the same way.”
She’s touched that so many of her employees and coworkers would be willing to ink themselves for life with her restaurant’s logo.
The company supports the idea so much that they’re willing to pay for employees to get the tattoo, if the person wants it.
Executive chef Mike Henson, laughing, admits he’s never heard of any other company that does something like this.
“I don’t know any other company that will brand their employees, and/or pay for it!”
But for the people who have the tattoo, it’s much more than a brand. It’s a community built on care for one another, and those people just happen to have a tattoo to bind them even closer together.
“I never thought that we would create something like that, but we’ve created something that is more than a job,” says Rundberg, "more than a career.”
When asked what makes Nova so unique, Henson says that it’s the “genuine care" that management has for its employees: "Like, their person, and not just their position and the space that they’re filling, or the dollar amount that they’re getting paid.”
If you don’t want to get inked permanently but still want to be a part of the community, temporary tattoos are available for kids and Nova fans.
Rundberg’s company, Inspired Madness - which owns Nova, along with The Daily Coffee and Eatery, Lot G, and Feed Cafe in Bozeman - is inspiring other employees to get their own tattoos. She says Feed employees are currently brainstorming design ideas to get inked on in the coming months.