A local burger chain tied to an embattled Whitefish Christian ministry is reopening in the Flathead Valley.
Mudman Burgers and Potter’s Field Ministries closed last summer after allegations of emotional and psychological abuse of workers against organization leaders. The ministry is still under investigation for potential wage and labor law violations.
Mudman Burgers is moving out from under the umbrella of its former parent nonprofit, Potters Field Ministries. It’s now registered as a for-profit Limited Liability Company under ministry leader Mike Rozell, according to state records.
MTPR confirmed with Potter’s Field in-house counsel Sharon DiMuro that the restaurants will reopen.
Connor Strong worked at Mudman before it closed last July, and filed a claim with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry last year alleging he wasn’t paid for all of his work. The department is still investigating Strong’s and a handful of similar claims.
The reopening angers some former workers like Strong and others in the Flathead.
"Even if they come out and they do it all quote, unquote the right way, and people get paid and there’s overtime and everything is correct, there’s still a past behind them that has not been settled."
The state’s ongoing investigation of past Mudman employees claims has found they signed contracts agreeing to work 60-plus hours per week for little at $300 per month.
The restaurants and ministry closed down last summer after workers made psychological and emotional abuse allegations against ministry leaders Mike and Pam Rozell, allegations the Rozells have denied via other ministry leaders or spokespeople.
Ministry council DiMuro told the Daily Interlake that the Columbia Falls and Kalispell locations are expected to open in April. DiMuro canceled a scheduled interview with MTPR, saying via text, "I am being asked by our Opening Team to delay all media requests until some additional elements of the strategy are clarified."
DiMuro did not cite growing opposition online to the reopening of Mudman.
Kalispell resident Rachel Moriarty started a dedicated Stop Mudman Burgers Facebook group that gained over 300 members in just a few days.
"I started the group primarily to basically to demonstrate in a very big way, to say hey, you’re not welcome here."
Moriarty says there are attempts within the group to organize a more formal public opposition to Mudman, like potentially protesting the restaurants as they open just head of the busy tourist season.
Mudman does have some support on social media and within the Flathead area. But former workers Montana Public Radio spoke with say they hope people are re-reading and believing the allegations of abuse that closed down Mudman in the first place; allegations the founders of the burger joint deny.