New Pizza Ranch owners find fit investing in area communities

July 18, 2019

At first glance, Kim and Matt Cerwick might not seem like the most obvious restaurateurs. Until last year, neither had any experience in the industry – Matt worked in construction for more than 15 years and Kim has served as the president and CEO of the Brandon Valley Area Chamber of Commerce for the past 11 years.

But two years ago, an entrepreneurial spark led the the Brandon-based Cerwicks into the restaurant business. They now own the Dell Rapids and Canton Pizza Ranch locations.

Matt has always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Kim said. “He’s had some different businesses throughout our marriage. He very much wants to be his own boss and do his own thing.”

Once the Cerwicks knew they were interested in purchasing a business, Matt searched online for available businesses in and around Sioux Falls. He saw the listing for the Dell Rapids Pizza Ranch on the website of Murphy Business, a brokerage firm, and reached out to broker Bryan Mulder.

For owner confidentiality, Mulder said the firm generally lists businesses for sale in vague terms. In the case of the Dell Rapids Pizza Ranch, it was listed as a “southeastern South Dakota family franchise” along with a copyright-free picture representing a buffet and general financial information about the location.

From there, prospective buyers must sign a confidentiality agreement and submit a personal financial statement to qualify themselves as legitimate candidates. This gives them access to more specific details, including the name and location of the business, and the negotiation process then continues further.

Matt said it took roughly 13 months from the time he contacted Mulder for the deal to close, which Mulder said is a common timeline for a business such as Pizza Ranch.

“The interest that we get as brokers is really dictated by the type of business and what industry it’s in,” Mulder said. “Niche businesses get a lot of interest and inquiries, but a more common business like a family restaurant tends to take a little longer.”

The Cerwicks, while intrigued after learning that they might be purchasing a Pizza Ranch franchise, still were unsure that it was the correct move for their family. After meeting with representatives of corporate Pizza Ranch, however, they said they knew it was the perfect investment.

“We had to do a lot of searching within ourselves to see if it was something we wanted to do,” Matt said. “But after our first meeting with corporate, Kim and I drove back with goosebumps on our arms because it was such an incredible feeling we got from that organization. And from there we put it in God’s hands and let him tell us which way to go.”

After closing the deal on the Dell Rapids location in April 2018, Matt went to Pizza Ranch’s headquarters in Orange City, Iowa, for five weeks of training. Matt said he immediately felt supported by both corporate and the staff at Dell Rapids in the transition process.

“We had very little turnover there when Kim and I came in, so that really helped with keeping things running smoothly,” he said. “And yeah, everyone in the corporate office is so kind and so friendly. They will help you out with any questions you might have. Honestly, with any other restaurant, I don’t think I would have taken the leap.”

The Cerwicks felt so comfortable with their purchase, in fact, that they quickly decided to look into further investment opportunities. And in late May, a little over a year after they bought the Dell Rapids location, they closed the deal on the Canton Pizza Ranch.

The community-building and faith aspects of Pizza Ranch’s mission also were a big draw for the Cerwicks. Through their community-impact nights – when 10 percent of sales go to a nonprofit organization – and their focus on shopping local, they are able to give back to the communities they serve.

“It is a very Christian, God-centric organization,” Kim said. “The goals and the things that we do are to better the world and the community – just through the means of chicken and pizza. So it’s a great corporation to be a part of as a franchise.”

To make their new investments work, the Cerwicks use their respective skill sets to divide their management duties. Matt dedicates all of his time to the locations and tries to alternate which location he goes to every other day. Kim does all of the bookkeeping while still continuing her position at Brandon’s chamber.

The Cerwicks said their previous work experiences have made the past year a relatively easy transition for their family. Kim’s experience with the chamber has helped her with running the business side, while Matt’s construction background makes him proficient in managing the staff and making structural and technical updates to both locations.

“The chamber is not my business, but I do all the tax stuff, the bookkeeping, so I have all that experience of knowing what we have to do with the state and the legal aspects,” Kim said.

“So it was really good to have that background to help with this process of getting things shaped up and going. And Matt’s made a huge difference in appearance and people coming in and seeing that we do take pride in our location and all of those things. Being able to do all of those things ourselves saves us money and helps us freshen up the place.”

Matt added that he’s grateful to be working alongside his wife because they complement each other’s skills to form a successful management team.

“She makes my job even easier,” he said. “It’s great to have a partner like my wife.”

For now, they said owning two locations is plenty to manage, although they don’t rule out expanding at some point.

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New Pizza Ranch owners find fit investing in area communities

When they decided they wanted to own a business, this Brandon couple found Pizza Ranch was such a perfect fit they quickly doubled their locations.

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