Ken and Mary Dressens always loved the concept of Pizza Ranch: a mom and dad, husband and wife, running a restaurant while their children worked with them.
After formulating a dream of opening a Pizza Ranch, the Dressens journeyed from South Dakota to Wisconsin, a less saturated area of Pizza Ranches, and the Dressens opened their first restaurant in Baraboo.
Now, they have their second Pizza Ranch at 682 South Grand Ave. in Sun Prairie, that the Dressens opened up for their daughter to run to keep the family trend thriving.
Their Baraboo Pizza Ranch mirrors what they hope to see their Sun Prairie ranch delve into, once the restaurant, employees and owners get settled.
Currently, they have impact nights in their Baraboo store that helps the humane society, a cancer walk, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and more, every once or twice a week. In April, they will start these impact nights in Sun Prairie.
“Our non-profit organization comes in, and they help serve the guests,” Mary said. “They get 10 percent of those sales and any donations left on the tables for them. It’s really a give-give, and everyone benefits from it.”
Ken said one of their biggest goals is to be involved with the school system, but as seen the organization does not have to be school related in order to participate in an impact night.
Another tradition they are bringing from Baraboo to Sun Prairie is dinner for a month to a family in need. The Dressens said their daughter has already contacted the pastors in the city to gather together and come up with a family that would benefit from a weekly meal at Pizza Ranch for a month.
“To us, it has been really rewarding,” Mary said. “They’re so thankful, and we’re thankful that we can help them out because everybody has gone through a time in their life where one meal a week paid for, it’s just awesome.”
Ken mentioned that many of the families the provide meals for, the kids have never been to a sit down place, so to provide them an experience they have never encountered is very fulfilling as a family restaurant.
Pizza Ranch also offers its experience to many other organizations and businesses with their catering service.
They have done special catering for the National Guard, a tractor ride event on someone’s farm, weddings, business trainings and more. Sun Prairie has already utilized the catering system for a training event over a week span for 1,500 people. Although their menu is not huge, the Dressens said they mix it up when catering to a weeklong event. One day might consist of wraps, while the next day offers chicken and salad, then pizza the next and of course, always dessert Mary said. They have even catered to a 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. night shift event. Their dedication has kept customers coming to their restaurant despite the drive.
Many Sun Prairie residents checked out the Dressen’s Pizza Ranch in Baraboo to see what was coming in advance. One dedicated family traveled from Verona each Sunday and was grateful for the Sun Prairie opening.
“The dad told us when we opened this store he was going to be our number one customer,” Ken said. “He was. When the door opened he was standing outside waiting.”
“To us that’s family,” Mary said. “To have that feeling already, just opening, is pretty awesome.”
Family is of utmost importance to the Dressens when maintaining their restaurant and creating connections with guests.
Mary said one time a guest came in and simply looked like she needed a hug, so Mary came around the counter and gave her one.
“When my guests hurts, I hurt,” Mary said. “Emotion is emotion and it’s part of life.”
The guests were celebrating their time together because one member had cancer.
“When she left, she came back and hugged me,” Mary said. “We want people to know they can come here whether they’re celebrating the birth of a new born or the death of someone that’s coming.”
Ken remembered a reoccurring theme when three of their guests were suffering from cancer while one was getting open-heart surgery.
“We’ve had quite a few call us up,” Ken said. “It’s their last night and they want Pizza Ranch. Typically they’ll die the next day.”
Mary said in times like these, they tell the families to grab what they need. One familiar guest came in to get chicken from the Pizza Ranch for her sister with cancer, Mary said.
“She died the next day,” Mary said. “The family still comes in and I give them hugs, but her heart will always be part of the ranch.”
The Dressens keep many guests in mind and heart. One elderly couple called in every Friday afternoon for the same chicken dinner order. Either Ken or Mary would deliver and set-up the dinner for the couple because one was blind. Mary remembered one day when the couple’s son called and explained that his dad was in the hospital, so there would be no chicken order for his father this week, but he would be out of the hospital by Monday.
“Monday we had to see the obituary in the paper,” Mary said. “We were blown away. But his wife continued to order, and her order was never enough for a minimum order delivery. We would take it anyway. We had no qualms about taking care of her. The sons couldn’t have been more thankful, and I said to me, it was like having my mom there.”
The Dressens expect their Sun Prairie restaurant to trigger just as much emotion and attachment. Mary said even their staff becomes attached to certain guests, and it is this family atmosphere that drives their Pizza Ranch.
The Dressens spread their care to their employees and try to make the Pizza Ranch a rewarding experience. After a weeklong training the employees of Sun Prairie’s Pizza Ranch opened their doors to the eager customer.
The Dressens and experienced staff helped with the new additions and worked side-by-side.
“We never try to set ourselves aside from our staff,” Mary said. “If there’s tables to be cleaned, we have no problem doing it. We’re part of the crew and work right alongside them.”
The Dressens said it is rewarding to take such young people and form a relationship that trains employees to run a facility the way they want it run and eventually, trust them to run the ranch without their presence.
They have helped one employee move into college and provided him furniture, while another staff member came back just last Sunday and told the Dressens that once he graduated college, he wanted to work full-time for them.
The Dressens emphasize to their staff the importance of customer interaction, whether catering, delivering, a pick-up or dine in order. All their food is made-to-order, and with their 29-item salad bar, wraps, pizza, chicken and desserts they have a variety to offer.
Although called the Pizza Ranch, Ken joked that it is really their chicken that people love. The chicken was introduced six years after Pizza Ranch was started, Ken explained.
“A lot of people come in and say they’re at the chicken ranch because that’s what they’re there for,” Ken said.
Their big hit pizzas are the Buffalo Chicken pizza, their Tuscan pizza and their gluten free pizza option, the Dressens said. Their unique philosophies and newer options make Pizza Ranch a separate entity, the Dressens explained.
“I can’t even say we’re competition for the other pizza places, because we’re completely different,” Ken said. “Every pizza place has their own niche, and we have ours.”
The Dressens said they are excited to bring this family-owned niche to Sun Prairie.
“We’re thankful that Sun Prairie has let us be part of the community,” Mary said.
“It’s been a great response and to have that welcome is really very nice.”
Sun Prairie Pizza Ranch
682 S. Grand Ave.