FUN ON THE FARM Blooming Grove couple finds recipe for success
The first time Emily Knudsen went to a pizza farm, she knew she had found something special.
Knudsen, now a Blooming Grove Township resident, grew up in Hager City, Wis., just across the border from Red Wing, Minn. The visit was an outing with her girl cousins, and the longer she was there, the more she enjoyed the place.
“I realized this is something truly amazing,” she said. “I’m sitting on someone’s farm, drinking wine, and eating pizza. I could feel excitement in my bones... I knew I wanted to own one of these someday.”
When Emily met Bill Bartz, she was working in the banquet business, and he owned a 50-acre hobby farm, where he once kept horses. Eight months later, Bartz said he had an idea for the large barn: a wedding venue.
Having been a server for five years, Knudsen panned that idea and suggested he consider the pizza barn instead. First, though, Bartz had to experience it for himself.
“We’re literally there 10 minutes, and he said, ‘I could do this’,” she said. “We were both very passionate about the idea.”
‘Family time in nature’
The couple started building Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm in 2014 and opened about a year later. During that time, they created a kitchen in the barn with two wood-fired ovens and prepared the grounds.
One of three former horse pastures serves as a parking lot, and families spread out in another that’s closest to the barn as they enjoy their wood-fired pizzas. Everyone brings their own beverages, plates, cups, tableware, and napkins. Guests are also encouraged to bring appetizers and desserts to make the experience even more special.
From the beginning, Knudsen said, they could both see just how the pizza farm would fit on the property. It just seemed like it was “meant to be a pizza farm.”
“It’s family time in nature,” she said. “I think that’s something people are looking for.”
Music is also a big part of Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, with local bands playing on Thursdays and Sundays. Knudsen said they’re also planning “Music on the Prairie” one Saturday each month, with three bands featured. The genres will be different each month as well: June-Folk Americana, July- 60s & 70s, August-Blues, and September-Country.
Kids of all ages enjoy getting to know the farm’s animals – a llama named Daphne, a Huacaya alpaca named Lena, and Kenny and George Pie, both Boer goats. All are rescue animals and have free run of the farm when the Pizza Farm is closed.
But the real star of the show is the pizza, and Bartz works to keep it that way. As do the Italian pizzaiolos or pizza chefs, he prefers the traditional wood-fired brick oven to gas or electric.
“Pizza is such a complex food,” he said. “We opened in 2015, so I’ve been doing this for seven years. I don’t think I will ever get to a level where I feel like a master of this work.”
On a day when the Pizza Farm is open, Bartz wakes up, gets his cup of coffee, and heads out to start the two ovens. He heats them to well over 1,000 degrees, then drops the heat back down to around 650-700 degrees.
“With wood fire, you get those leopard spots on the bottom,” he said, “and that solid, crispy bottom and caramelization on top. I like that no one pizza comes out the same.”
Pleasant Grove’s best seller is the Pig + Pork, with red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, and green olives. The menu includes options as simple as the It Ain’t Easy, with just red sauce and mozzarella, and as loaded as the MN Mess, with sausage, mushroom, black and green olives, green peppers, and onions.
The couple also keeps a small garden and uses their own fresh produce as soon as it comes in.
Pizza on wheels
After doing a few backyard events with a small mobile unit, Bartz and Knudsen have gone all in with a custom-made trailer that houses everything they need to make their pies. Crafted by The Bread Stone Ovens Company in Dallas, Texas, it includes a wood-fired pizza oven, refrigerator, and a 10-foot-by-10-foot tent.
But it’s not a food truck.
“No matter how you slice it, we’re a sit-down restaurant on wheels,” Bartz said.
While Bartz and Knudsen expected the business to grow, they have blown through their projections. At the height of the 2021 season, Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm cranked out 500 pizzas in a typical weekend.
Over this past Memorial Day weekend – barely the start of their season, they served 572 between the mobile unit and the farm.
“Each year, we’ve seen amazing growth,” Knudsen said.
Like so many entrepreneurs, Knudsen and Bartz say they’re in business for something much more than the money.
“The response is why we do this,” Bartz said, “because the response has been so great. When we take the mobile to places, people thank us for bringing it to their town.”
Even their Blooming Grove neighbors love the Pizza Farm, Knudsen added, because they don’t have to drive all the way into town to pick up a good pizza.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “I’m excited that people in Blooming Grove are happy to have us.”
Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm is located at 41142 160th Street, Waseca. Learn more at pleasantgrovepizzafarm.com and find the business on Facebook and Instagram.