A Montana burger chain that abruptly closed last summer amid allegations its owners— ministers at an evangelical Christian ranch—physically and emotionally abused its young staff has quietly reopened, sparking protests among residents who’ve had enough.
MudMan, a chain of four fast-food joints serving monstrously large burgers, was part of a multimillion-dollar business empire led by Michael and Pam Rozell, who founded Potter’s Field Ministries.
In July, the evangelical Christian organization, which includes an 80-acre ranch in picturesque Whitefish, was shut down by its sponsor church following a slew of allegations of verbal and emotional abuse against young people, inhumane working conditions, sexual harassment, and misappropriation of funds.
But despite the allegations that spurred two state investigations, at least one of the burger joints—known by some locals as ‘Cult Burger’—reopened its drive-through service last Thursday.
“As far as we know, no other locations have opened in our state. We decided to go out and protest to educate the public about the issue at hand,” Rachel Moriarty told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “They need to make reparations for what they’ve done, and have outright refused until the courts forced their hand. Now they are trying to reopen business like nothing happened.”
Moriarty, a 24-year-old artist whose friends were once involved in Potter’s Field, was among a dozen protesters holding signs that said “Workers Drug Thru Mud” and “Never Fund a Cult” outside the Columbia Falls location on Sunday.
The demonstration, organized by the Facebook group “Stop MudMan Burgers,” which has more than 2,000 members, came about after one member saw a car going through the chain’s drive-through.
“The community immediately responded,” Wayne Randall, a 37-year-old audio engineer who also attended the protest, told The Daily Beast. “We could not believe that they had the audacity to open back up. Many hundreds of people were upset about it as evident on the Stop Mudman page.”
For over three decades, the Rozells, a well-known couple in the Pacific Northwest’s evangelical community, built up Potter’s Field Ministries with the support and sponsorship of one of the nation’s biggest evangelical groups, Calvary Chapel Association.
According to a dozen former interns, staff members, and missionaries who spoke to The Daily Beast last September, the spiritual duo repeatedly abused and manipulated young men and women who spent thousands of dollars to learn at Potter’s Field and participate in the organization’s missionary program in six countries.
Former members detailed how Michael would scream over the smallest inconveniences, sometimes for hours and often at the behest of his wife. Women also complained that he would lead conversations in a sexual direction or ask female members if they had ever “struggled with sexual sin.”
Some former members said they left the ministry penniless—and occasionally in the middle of the night—fearing the Rozells would tarnish their reputation.
“Michael would repeatedly say, ‘If you leave Potter’s Field, you are in sin,’” Dawn Marie Grice, a former member, previously told The Daily Beast. “That brainwashing, the constant repeating and hitting at your religiousness. How could you leave if you thought leaving Potter’s Field was leaving your faith?”
Members of Potter’s Field and the organization’s internship program on the ranch were almost always put to work at one of the Rozells’ businesses—including MudMan. According to former interns, workers at the burger chain, whose logo is of a man resembling Michael in sunglasses, were paid less than minimum wage and forced to work 60 to 80 hours a week.
Before they even began work, interns were required to sign a contract mandating that “upon receipt of the first paycheck” they must work at least 25 hours per week at MudMan while paying $200 per month in rent to Potter’s Field Ministries.
“The pay was garbage and the hours were ridiculous,” Kenzie Kinney, a former IGNITE intern, who worked at MudMan, told The Daily Beast, adding that some employees earned as little as $2 an hour.
In 2019, word of the allegations against the Rozells finally got back to the Calvary Chapel Association. In July, Calvary Chapel removed Potter’s Field Ministries from its official list of affiliated pastors and churches.
“We find that the Potter’s Field form of discipleship training and methods of ministry are not compatible with the Calvary Chapel form of ministry,” Calvary Chapel said in a statement.
The Montana Department of Labor is investigating nine claims made by former employees alleging that Potter’s Field violated federal labor laws by asking young workers to volunteer for jobs they should have been paid for. One of the claims, obtained by Montana Public Radio, revealed the state was investigating nearly $120,000 in alleged unpaid wages. The Montana Attorney General’s Office is also investigating Potter’s Field.
The ministry, however, argues that the young adults were interns—not employees—and therefore fall under a state exception that allows employers to partially reimburse volunteers who are not full-time staffers.
“These kids were not employees, they were interns who signed up for a program and were told up front, ‘Hey you’re going to work 40 hours, plus 20 volunteer hours,’” Sharon DiMuro, attorney for Potter’s Field, said in a statement to Montana Public Radio. DiMuro and the Rozells did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
In November, DiMuro released a statement on the ministry’s website pointing to the Rozells’ intentions to resurface. The lawyer added that the ministry had originally intended to hand its operations off to another non-profit. However, the Rozells decided to stay on after an independent audit found “no misappropriate or fiscal malfeasance had been noted as to the conduct of the ministries.”
“Should it be determined that funds need to be paid out on any of those labor claims, such funds will come from the net proceeds of real estate sales and NOT from any child sponsorship funds paid by donations from supporters, which are always segregated and maintained separately from general funds,” DiMuro said.
Despite the ongoing legal trouble, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office said on Tuesday that MudMan Burgers was now registered as a for-profit limited liability company and was in “good active standing.” While still owned by Michael Rozell, the burger chain is no longer under the Potter’s Field Ministries umbrella, state records indicate.
For Randall and the other protesters, however, MudMan and the Rozells are no longer welcome in Montana. The group plans to protest again on Friday.
“We do not tolerate abuse under the disguise of religion in our valley,” Randall said. “Never fund a cult!”