Frank Gazella Jr.—the founder of Creek to Peak Wear, a new Bozeman-based outdoor apparel brand—exudes an enthusiasm that is nothing short of infectious. A natural entrepreneur, Gazella’s passion and drive has served him, but is not self-serving. Rather, his energy is buoyed by a genuine desire to help other small startups make their vision a reality alongside his own.

Gazella grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, immersed in an Italian family of self-made business owners. Acknowledging that school was not for him, Gazella dropped out of University of Kansas his junior year and joined the Marine Corps. He said the experience prepared him to be a small business owner. It made him focus, brought out his drive and ignited a “no quit” attitude.

A year out of the Marines, Gazella, then 24, and a friend started what would quickly become a wildly successful pierogi (the savory polish potato dumpling) distribution company out of their apartment in Kansas City.

Before long, “Pieroguys,” was touring with NASCAR and distributing to Hersheypark, Donald Trump’s golf courses and more than 100 grocery stores.

“We got so big we couldn’t pinch them fast enough,” Gazella said of making the dumplings.

Their exponential growth led Gazella and his partner to hire a dubious manufacturer, which marked the beginning of the end for Pieroguys and their lucrative nine-year run. Gazella said the ensuing lawsuit should be resolved by the end of this year.

Gazella was floundering after the sudden collapse of his business in 2013 and decided to take a month-long road trip.

Montana was on his mind. He had been obsessed with the state since he was a little kid. It was the state he chose to do a report on in the fifth grade; it was where his favorite movies were set, and it was one of seven states he hadn’t visited.

On his way back to Kansas City from touring the West, he stopped in Bozeman and never left.

“As I was coming through Whitehall, I got this overwhelming feeling that I should just be here,” Gazella said. “I’m thinking this is crazy … but it just felt right.”

After a year of working odd jobs and wading through discouragement, Gazella was struck by another lightning bolt of inspiration while hiking the Bridger Ridge Traverse—and the idea for Creek to Peak Wear was born.

“That was the day Stella got her groove back,” Gazella said. “I realized I’m always out having these adventures and I’m always wearing my favorite blue Kansas Jayhawks T-shirt—and that’s when I thought of [Creek to Peak’s tagline] ‘wear your adventure.’ And I knew I was on to something.”

This past September, a year after his ridgeline epiphany, Gazella launched the website for Creek to Peak Wear. His clean, graphic logo is featured on trucker hats, beanies, hoodies, and the signature T-shirt that started it all—guaranteed to be the most comfortable you ever put on your back.

Without investors, Gazella is starting out small with his line of apparel and is still in the research phase of opening a storefront, but the Creek to Peak brand is only one component of a grander vision. He wants his company to be a platform for other small businesses with a similar model to get their product to market.

He has already partnered with Montana’s Voke Tab (natural energy tablets), Brook Fishing Equipment, Colorado Glasses, LifeStraw (developer of a personal water filter), and the backpacker-friendly Paleo Meals To Go, all of which are offered on the Creek to Peak website.

Gazella also facilitates printing, packing, shipping and distribution logistics for new businesses so they can focus on sales and marketing.

“I know there are a thousand kids with awesome ideas that don’t know how to go about getting it out there,” Gazella said. “I know how hard it is; I know what it’s like to sit on an idea and not know what to do with it—and I want to help those people. Everything we use, everything we touch, was someone’s idea. Maybe we can help bring out the next big thing.”

Gazella isn’t looking to be the next North Face or Patagonia and he doesn’t have any interest in carrying big name brands. He’s motivated by an enjoyment of the creative process, the love of the challenge, and the satisfaction of seeing an idea become a reality.

“I’m not in it for the money,” Gazella said. “I just want to create a cool brand and see someone wearing my shirt, loving it and having a good time. I’m just trying to be me and create something I’m proud of and—the main thing—to love what I do.”

From Explore Big Sky