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‘It’s about time’: McIntyre family leads the charge in bringing Pizza Ranch dream to Bemidji

Pizza Ranch staff members were joined by Bemidji community members for a first-bite ceremony on Friday morning ahead of the long-awaited grand opening of the restaurant set for Monday, Jan. 16.

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Pizza Ranch Owner and General Manager Kevin McIntyre, center, is opening the new restaurant with the help of his daughters Joy, left, and Faith, who are both assistant managers.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — What started as an April Fools’ joke several years ago became a reality on Friday when Bemidji’s new Pizza Ranch restaurant opened its doors to guests for the first time.

Pizza Ranch staff members were joined by members of the Bemidji Chamber, Visit Bemidji, myBemidji and Mayor Jorge Prince for a first-bite ceremony on Friday morning, Jan. 13, giving them a little taste of what’s to come ahead of the long-awaited grand opening of the restaurant set for Monday, Jan. 16.

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Pizza Ranch staff members are joined for a first-bite ceremony on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, by members of the Bemidji Chamber, Visit Bemidji, myBemidji and Mayor Jorge Prince.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Kevin Johnson of myBemidji recounted how his prank that a Pizza Ranch was coming to town has taken Bemidji by storm throughout the past couple of years.

“We created a realistic banner and put it on the Union Station building, bought a URL and made a whole fake website so that people would go and see that it looked real,” Johnson recalled with a laugh. “We took it to the full extent that we could.”

Little did he know that plans for an actual restaurant were in the works — for real.

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Just two days prior, the McIntyre family had taken their first step in a journey to open Bemidji’s first Pizza Ranch.

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Pizza Ranch offers 15 signature pizzas along with create-your-own and gluten-sensitive options.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Owned and operated by longtime Bemidji area resident Kevin McIntyre, who is also the general manager, and his two daughters Faith and Joy doubling as assistant managers, the family has spent a lifetime serving others through food and hospitality.

Faith and Joy have spent the past decade in the food service industry working at the DoubleTree and Hampton Inn and Suites hotels in Bemidji, giving them the perfect skill set to help them succeed in their new roles.

Meanwhile, Kevin’s background working in the classroom with special needs children in the Bemidji School District over the past 12 years gave him the desire to help people in even more ways.

With a heart for serving others, Kevin noted how their family even traveled to Louisiana in 2005 when category five hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico and helped out by operating a giant kitchen where they served around 2,000 people each day.

Upon learning about the Pizza Ranch franchise a few years ago, they quickly found out the chain is a lot more than just a pizza place.

“We were really blown (away) by their customer service and products, then we found out their aspects of serving the community,” Kevin said. “Part of their mission statement is ‘Positively impacting the world.’ It just really fits our passion for food and hospitality but also reaching out into the community and doing fundraisers for nonprofits.”

He added that especially with Bemidji’s long winters, Pizza Ranch will serve the community as a family event center where people can come relax, eat food and have a chance to enjoy the arcade, formally named the “Funzone.” There’s even a private space families can rent out for birthday parties or other events.

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Pizza Ranch owners hope that the FunZone Arcade portion of the restaurant is an entertainment destination for both children and adults. It will be available for private parties and events.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“I came to love Pizza Ranch because of the community aspect. They're all about engaging and taking care of the community and their staff,” Faith said. “I love serving people.”

When asked what she is most looking forward to now that the restaurant is finally opening its doors, she added that she’s most excited to get to know their customers and become ingrained in the community in a whole new way.

“Getting to know all of the people that come through our doors by their name, what their preferences are,” she said, “doing our outreach projects to get involved in the community is what I'm looking forward to the most.”

Sticking with the community-minded theme, Faith said as a part of their soft opening they would be collecting socks, mittens and other necessities for the United Way to be distributed to those in town who need them most.

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Bemidji’s new Pizza Ranch location is around 8,400 square feet including the restaurant and attached FunZone Arcade.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Overcoming challenges

Founded in Iowa in 1981, Pizza Ranch has 223 locations across 14 states, most of which are located in North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.

But when it came to creating a location in Bemidji, the owners were faced with no shortage of challenges from inception to opening its doors.

Located at 1635 Paul Bunyan Drive NW, the 8,500 square-foot restaurant is located in the former home to UBC Lumber, which also happens to be in the General Commercial in the Trunk Highway 197 and Airport B Overlay zones, which led to some hiccups when it came to its development.

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After initially being opposed by the Bemidji Regional Airport because of the potential impacts it could have on the airport, the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board did eventually greenlight the restaurant in April 2021.

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Pizza Ranch is located at 1635 Paul Bunyan Drive NW in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

With a hope of opening during the summer of 2022, pandemic-related delays along with a slew of other challenges pushed the opening into 2023.

“The delays were not from us not wanting to be open. We have been eagerly anticipating being open since mid-summer (2022),” Kevin said. “It’s been partly the supply chain and COVID-19. There's been such a backlog for getting equipment in and it’s just been one delay after another.”
One example he gave was the heating units for the building that were supposed to arrive in May just came around a month ago.

“There’s been one delay after another and then coordinating the tradespeople to come in when stuff is not here yet…,” Kevin detailed. “So we're excited to finally be open.”

He added that one of their biggest stressors wasn't opening the restaurant, it was keeping their staff intact as they faced each challenge.

“We had all these people who wanted to come work with us who had kind of put their life on pause or maybe left a job or didn't take (another) opportunity and now are waiting,” he explained, “and that was pretty stressful for us because our hearts are to help people, not hurt.”

With many businesses struggling to find workers in a post-pandemic economy, the Pizza Ranch owners said they haven’t had many issues when it comes to hiring.

“We've had a tremendous, tremendous response,” Kevin said. “The goal was to have 70 to 80 (staff members) and we’ve reached our goal. People were saying ‘You'll never do it, you'll never do it. You'll be lucky if you get 40.’ But we've been really blessed to have great help.”

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Pizza Ranch isn’t just known for it’s pizza, fried chicken is also a popular buffet item at the restaurant.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

As community members gathered inside for the first-bite ceremony, partial owner of the restaurant Dennis Johnson started off with a prayer, after which Faith took a moment to thank the Bemidji community for all their support.

“Thank you guys for all your support in this process, we appreciate all your help in keeping the legend alive,” Faith said to those in attendance. “Even in the time that (we were set back for a while) and being so gracious with us to move dates around and make it work for us.”

When asked if he had any final remarks, Kevin simply said, “It’s about time!” followed by a round of laughter and applause.

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Founded in Iowa in 1981, Pizza Ranch has 211 locations across 14 states, though most of them are located in North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Pizza Ranch owners hope that the FunZone Arcade portion of the restaurant is an entertainment destination for both children and adults. It will be available for private parties and events.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji’s new Pizza Ranch location is around 8,400 square feet including the restaurant and attached FunZone Arcade.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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