Americans love pizza.
That includes just about everyone who calls the United States home. According to a 2012 Packaged Facts survey, 97 percent of the nation's adults eat pizza. Pizza sales - including both purchases from restaurants and food stores - top $40 billion per year.
Papa Murphy's, the nation's fifth-largest pizza chain, which has a local store at 2813 Fifth Ave. S., is emerging as a major factor in the pizza world.
Papa Murphy’s Pizza general manager Melanie Hennings presents a ready-to-bake desert pizza recently at the 2813 Fifth Ave. S. location. Papa Murphy’s specializes in making pizzas that the customer bakes at home.
Hennings, right, watches as employee Zach Elmquist prepares a few desert pizzas ahead of time.
Papa Murphy’s Pizza general manager Melanie Hennings, right, watches as employee Zach Elmquist prepares a few desert pizzas ahead of time.
It has scored at the top of the rankings in two national surveys.
Consumers rated Papa Murphy's the No. 1 food chain in the just-released 2013 Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics ranking by Technomic, a food-industry consulting and research firm.
Papa Murphy's also was ranked the No. 1 pizza chain in the 2013 Consumer Picks survey by Nation's Restaurant News and WD Partners, a global strategy firm.
Papa Murphy's specializes in products customers take home to bake. According to Ken Calwell, the company's chief executive officer, these surveys reflect widespread support for the Papa Murphy's approach.
"As we expand our national footprint and more people try our fresh, high-quality pizza served hot out of their home oven, they get hooked and become fans for life," he said in a statement issued in April. "In all of our stores, we come in early to make the pizza dough by hand, grate the 100 percent mozzarella cheese and slice our fresh vegetables. We help our customers create the highest-quality pizza to take home, bake and serve to their families fresh out of the oven. That difference is what makes us the best kept secret in restaurants."
Paoa Murphy's has more than 1,350 franchised and corporate-owned take 'n' bake pizza stores in 38 states and Canada, according to a profile provided by the company. Melanie Hennings, who manages the local store, said Papa Murphy's has been a presence in the Fort Dodge market for 11 years. It is owned by Best Investments LLC, headquartered in Iowa City, an enterprise that operates nine Papa Murphy's outlets in Iowa.
"We do pizzas. We do salads. We have dessert pizzas, chocolate chip cookie dough," Hennings said. "We don't bake anything here in the store. ... The only thing that's ready to eat is the salads."
Fresh ingredients and customized offerings are key parts of what Papa Murphy's offers.
"We have everything under the sun that you could build a pizza with," Hennings said. "We build it to order. We build it right in front of you."
She said customers can choose from three pizza sizes (12 inch, 14 inch and 16 inch) and two crusts.
"We have our 'delite' crust, which is a thin, cracker crust," Hennings said. "We have our original crust, which is more like hand-tossed."
She said a new line of ready-to-go pizzas will be offered starting this month. They will have a third crust option, which she described as "New York style."
Hennings said customer service is a key ingredient of the Papa Murphy's success story.
"When a customer comes in, if they are a regular customer, they get greeted by their first name when they walk in the door," she said. "My staff really prides themselves on the friendliness aspect."
The focus on making clients feel welcome pleases customers and keeps them coming back.
"When I answer the phone, I actually often know the voice on the phone," Hennings said. "They always chuckle and say 'I must come here too often, you know my name.' Or they walk in the door and I will say, 'Would you like your usual?'"
Hennings and her seven-person local team also pride themselves on fast service. She said even custom orders usually take less than five minutes.
Customers also have the option of calling an order in and picking it up at a drive-through window.
The Papa Murphy's approach to marketing pizza enables customers to get high-quality products at highly competitive prices, Hennings said.
"We get it to you at a lower price because we don't have the overhead for the baking equipment and the time that it takes to bake it. So, you get better quality, lower price," she said.
Meet the manager
Hennings grew up in Rolfe and was part of the last graduating class at Rolfe High School 1990.
"I've been in the restaurant business for 23 years. I was 18 when I started in the restaurant business," said Hennings, who has been the Papa Murphy's manager in Fort Dodge for nine years.
She is bullish on both her job and her team.
"I love what I do," she said. "The kids are great that work for me. I've got a really amazing staff. They are friendly and funny and they just make it a joy to come to work."
Asked what message she has for potential customers, Hennings said they should "talk to somebody who has experienced" Papa Murphy's. She is confident they will find many highly satisfied patrons.
Papa Murphy's in Fort Dodge is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.