The Untold Truth Of Pizza Ranch

Anyone who's explored even a fraction of the Midwest has likely stumbled across a Pizza Ranch. This western-themed pizza franchise is ubiquitous across the region, usually in a small town and always in a can't-miss building adorned with its signature red awning. With hundreds of locations across the region, most of its citizens have tasted Pizza Ranch's delicious food.

Most pizza-loving Midwesterners, though, are likely too consumed with the food to inquire about the chain's history, CEO, or Hollywood producers who might have a random connection to the restaurant. They should ask, though, because throughout Pizza Ranch's decades of operation, it's amassed a wealth of unique anecdotes and strange facts.

Pizza Ranch is a heartland staple, but there's a plethora of information even the most seasoned patrons don't know. Fear not, though, because we've gathered all the information anyone could want about this pizza franchise. Here's the untold truth of Pizza Ranch.

The Pizza Ranch franchise started in Iowa

"Everything starts as a conversation," Adrie Groeneweg, Pizza Ranch founder and CEO said in an interview. For Pizza Ranch's start, that conversation took place between Groeneweg and his father, Bill Groeneweg. While working part-time for a pizza shop in a nearby town, Groeneweg noticed customers coming from miles around to taste his pizza, which he noted to Bill. Bill suggested Groeneweg open his own restaurant, provided the funds, and found a building, and soon they opened their first Pizza Ranch location in Hull, Iowa, per their website.

After only two years in operation, Groeneweg expanded his business and opened a second location in nearby Orange City, Iowa. Not long after, he was approached about the possibility of opening a new location of the pizza place, and soon after that, a third Pizza Ranch was opened in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, officially turning it into a franchise. By their tenth year in business, they had 52 locations in five states.

The CEO lives in Orange City, Iowa

Pizza Ranch's founder Adrie Groeneweg is still involved in the business today, working as the CEO. He lives in Orange City, Iowa, the site of the second-ever Pizza Ranch and home of their headquarters.

When he's not running a successful pizza franchise, Groeneweg is working in his garden. As he said in an interview, "my vibe is gardening, beautiful green lawns, and trees ...That's my passion." Groeneweg's passion extends to his employees, too. With a half-acre garden behind the Pizza Ranch headquarters, Groeneweg shares his home-grown produce with those who work for him.

Groeneweg is a successful businessman, but that was never his plan. "The plan was to get something going to pay our bills, to hopefully make a living," he said of his original intention when opening Pizza Ranch. Now he helps thousands of others make a living. Pizza Ranch employs over 7,000 people, and it's safe to assume Adrie Groeneweg is paying his bills and then some.

Pizza Ranch has some unique pizza flavors

Per its name, Pizza Ranch's main menu item is pizza. Customers who've never eaten at one might be overwhelmed by the options at first glance. Not only are there over a dozen kinds, and the flavors are quite unique. They offer standard flavors like cheese and pepperoni, but they also serve specialties like chicken broccoli alfredo, mac & cheese, and beef 'n broccoli. Pizza Ranch also strives to keep its western theme intact, naming some of its pies Roundup, Prairie, and Bronco.

Pizza Ranch is sensitive to dietary restrictions, too, offering gluten-free crust for patrons in need of that option, and they of course have vegetarian options, and a create-your-own. Pizza Ranch has also expanded its menu to sell Bake @ Home pizzas, which include breakfast pizzas for customers in need of fresh pizza in the morning (we fall under that category).

Since Pizza Ranch has pizzas available for all times of day, it's fitting that they also serve a stellar dessert pizza. After a few years in business, a franchisee suggested selling a dessert pizza. Founder Adrie Groeneweg noted in an interview that he was against the idea at first, but after trying the franchisee's recipe, he was convinced, and Cactus Bread has been a customer favorite since 1993.

Pizza Ranch has an award-winning buffet

Pizza isn't the only item on Pizza Ranch's menu. The western-themed restaurant also boasts an award-winning buffet replete with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and green beans, and a salad bar. While customers can request a pizza for their table, they can also find several options at the buffet, and employees will ask for flavor suggestions when patrons order.

Pizza Ranch is proud of its buffet, and in 2020, Newsweek honored the operation with its Best Customer Service 2021 award among buffet restaurants in the United States.

Though Pizza Ranch's buffet is famous now, it wasn't always a mainstay. Per its website, Pizza Ranch didn't serve a noon buffet during its first two years of operation, as it was only available one night a week. But thanks to a franchisee in Brandon, South Dakota, the buffet became available during all hours of operation.

Founder Adrie Groeneweg noted in an interview that the South Dakota location owner went rogue and offered the buffet nightly despite explicit instructions not to. After proving its fiscal success, Groeneweg allowed the nightly buffet to remain open, and now the buffet accounts for nearly 80% of Pizza Ranch's revenue.

Pizza Ranch is also known for the chicken

Customers of Pizza Ranch visit for the restaurant's pizza, but fans of Pizza Ranch know the real star is their broasted (not fried) chicken. Since 1987, Pizza Ranch has been serving "The Country's Best Chicken," per their website, and it's available in different cuts and piece amounts, and comes with various sauces if requested. It's seriously tasty stuff.

When eating at the restaurant for the first time, a patron, who documented the experience on their blog, said, "... when I tried the chicken for my first time, I was blown away ... It was easily the top 3 best fried chicken I've had from a national chain."

Although Pizza Ranch's broasted chicken is a staple menu item now, it wasn't always available to customers. Founder and CEO Adrie Groeneweg noted in an interview that a franchisee in Sioux City, Iowa wanted to continue selling the broasted chicken he had been selling in his previous restaurant, and after seeing the success, it became available at every Pizza Ranch location.

Pizza Ranch has a podcast and an app

Pizza Ranch has been around since the early '80s, and they've managed to stay in business by serving tasty foods and changing with the times. They've expanded their menu, opened new locations, given customers options to better fit their needs, and launched both a podcast and a mobile app.

The Pizza Ranch podcast, which began in 2019, can be accessed through their website. It currently has two seasons available with four episodes each, and there's a survey available to improve the podcast. Each episode interviews a member of the Pizza Ranch team — including founder and CEO Adrie Groeneweg — who share stories and the history of the beloved pizza chain.

Customers will also be delighted to know about Pizza Ranch's mobile app called Pizza Ranch Rewards. The app includes a restaurant location finder, allows customers to place online orders, and helps members manage their rewards points, among other features. The app is available in both English and Spanish, making it accessible to a variety of customers.

You'll find arcades in some Pizza Ranch locations

If food alone isn't enough to entice customers into a Pizza Ranch, some locations are outfitted with the Pizza Ranch FunZone Arcade. While they're not available everywhere, the locations that boast one, and the customers who've been, know the excitement kids feel when they enter a FunZone Arcade. Pizza Ranch works to make their FunZone Arcades just that — fun. The arcades have light-up games in every inch of space, and there's a prize booth available for winners to exchange tokens.

Although most Pizza Ranches are not equipped with a FunZone Arcade, nearly all have a community room available for parties and events. The locations that have both offer packages for birthday parties that include unlimited buffet and FunZone cards worth various amounts. Pizza Ranch locations with a FunZone Arcade are especially great for families. As one patron noted on his blog, Wichita By EB, "If you have kids, I really think they are going to love this place."

Three new locations opened during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every business in one way or another, but restaurants felt a particularly heavy weight due to the coronavirus. Firefly, a proprietary database run by Datassential, reported that over 10% of United States restaurants have closed permanently due to the pandemic, per Nation's Restaurant News. Fortunately for Pizza Ranch, they remained operational amid the worldwide crisis.

Not only did Pizza Ranch stay open, but it grew during the pandemic. As its website reads, "Despite the pandemic, Pizza Ranch opens three new locations in June 2021 – Duluth, MN, Brookings, SD, and Champlin, MN – with more locations slated to open later in the year."

One of the locations to open later in the year was the Hendersonville, Tennessee Pizza Ranch, which opened in November 2021, per its Instagram account. With that opening, Pizza Ranch is now in 15 states across the country, and has over 200 locations. With such growth, there are becoming fewer and fewer excuses not to try Pizza Ranch.

Pizza Ranch's different locations serve different items

Because Pizza Ranch is a franchise, anyone can own one. (Well, not anyone per se, but more on that later.) Since it's comprised of various owners and in various places, mostly small towns throughout the Midwest, not all Pizza Ranches are the same.

We've noted that not every location has a FunZone Arcade, and the same concept applies to the menu. Different locations have different menu items, making it important that customers check their local menu online before setting their hearts on a potentially unavailable item. For example, the Pizza Ranch in Conway, Arkansas serves BLT pizza, while the one in Casper, Wyoming does not. By and large, the menu differences are small, but it is worth noting, especially considering the chain's recent growth.

Although not all locations serve BLT pizza, customers can always count on Pizza Ranch serving their standard pizzas, broasted chicken, signature buffet, and dessert pizza, no matter what location.

It's super expensive to franchise a Pizza Ranch

Midwestern fans of Pizza Ranch, especially those who live in Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin (the states with the highest number of locations) have probably eaten at more than one location and wondered how this chain is in so many small towns. They might also know a local owner and be curious about the startup costs. For anyone interested, here's the answer: it's expensive.

Unless the owner has generational wealth or suddenly came into money, Pizza Ranch is most likely not their only business venture. Per the website, owner candidates must have a net worth of at least $1 million, $400,000 or more of that being liquid, be able to invest $1-3 million, among other financial requirements, and they must have "Business experience and know-how," as well as "Sufficient finances and access to funds." Generally, most restaurant franchises aren't typically cheap to buy into though. 

Based on its recent growth, franchising a Pizza Ranch is a solid investment, but it's one that isn't possible for most people.

Pizza Ranch has a unique connection to Napoleon Dynamite

Famous pieces of work we have South Dakota to thank for: "Mad Men" (January Jones is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota), "Dances with Wolves" (it was filmed in western South Dakota), and "Napoleon Dynamite." Yep, one of the producers of the cult classic film, Sean Covel, grew up in Edgemont, South Dakota. We're willing to bet he's eaten at Pizza Ranch a time or two.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film's production costs were only $400,000, making it cheaper to produce "Napoleon Dynamite" than it is to franchise a Pizza Ranch. Other than that ridiculous statistic, what does "Napoleon Dynamite" have to do with Pizza Ranch? Well, producer Sean Covel returned to his stomping grounds and teamed up with a local bank and local Pizza Ranch to combat food instability among elementary school students over holiday breaks, pet Crow River Media.

Covel calls the program The 12 Days of Pizza, and it provides families with one meal per day over Christmas break. Covel noted of the program, "It's a local Pizza Ranch working with a local sponsor to solve a problem in that community, and by working locally, we can expand into doing something regionally, and, hopefully, nationally."

Many politicians have eaten at Pizza Ranch

One of the producers of "Napoleon Dynamite" isn't the only famous person who's eaten at Pizza Ranch. A slew of politicians have visited the restaurant while on the campaign trail, as Iowa is the first state in the Union to caucus for the presidential election.

As we've discussed, Pizza Ranch began in Iowa and is a staple of the state. In every presidential election since 2008, candidates have stopped at the pizza chain to campaign, Mike Huckabee being the man who began the tradition, per NPR. As he told the Des Moines Register, "We created the Pizza Ranch strategy. A lot of people have copied it since then, but I think we created it."

Just as he said, a lot of people have copied Huckabee's strategy, including Hilary Clinton, President Joe Biden, and former President Donald Trump. One politician, Rick Santorum, made an impression at the Pizza Ranch in Boone, Iowa, as the location temporarily named a salad after him since he liked it so well, per HuffPost. While you might not trust the opinion of a politician, but trust us when we say that Pizza Ranch is absolutely worth the hype.