Right before we left on our RV tour of the U.S., CNN posted an article on it’s website about “pizza farms” in Minnesota – a unique, fun concept to engage local and regional residents about the importance and fun of local farms.
It is part outreach and awareness, part extended revenue stream. I get that and love it.
So I charted a course on our tour map that took a slight detour, maybe 40 minutes off the beaten path to experience it for ourselves. This took some logistics and timing as the 3 farms in the article all did pizza nights on weekdays – usually 2 nights a week. But I found one that also included every third Sunday.
Well hot damn, guess what day we went through – the third Sunday of July. Hello freshly grown pizza pies – come to papa.
Having just stayed overnight on an abandoned air force base, we were just a little excited to get to the farm. Around animals for sure, but also around people. And the farm to our delight was full of people. And it had all the makings of a great experience. We could see people camped out all over. Near the barn, near the field, in the open, along the fence that boarded a horse.
The horse was an immediate hit with Emily as she made her way in with the other kids. And the horse was super friendly and hung right by the kids – no doubt because of food and kids. A great combo for anyone hungry and not particular about what else is on a kids hands and therefore the food.
The line to order the pizza was reasonable. But something felt odd. Nobody walking around or sitting around was really interacting or even too much aware of others. There was plenty of engagement within groups, but everybody’s eyes stayed within their circle and around their pies.
We were shocked when ordering our pizzas to hear out wait times – two hours. Hold your horses – two hours? What were we going to do? I’m pretty sure nobody else there had just logged 3200 miles of driving before arriving at this side destination. I guess we’ll wait.
I used up the first 20 minutes just observing. First I talked to one of the oven attendants, asked him about any boost from the CNN exposure. Apparently, they were making about 400 pies each pizza night and jumped 10% to 440/450 – not bad. Maybe it’s true that the only people watching CNN are at the airports.
Then I had Jonathan set a timer and I started counting – 8 pizzas in 5 minutes – just a short sample I know but I wasn’t feeling that patient and I figured I had better pace my patience for the duration. So that’s 100 pies per hour – about how fast I felt like I was driving to get there in time to wait.
After snapping some photos, we headed back to the RV to wait it out which I guess is where my disappointment set in. I really didn’t mind the 2 hour wait – I love seeing small businesses serving up a strong demanding audience. With another dose of my patience, I worked out that 500 pies (estimated for that Sunday) at $25 per pizza (yes, that’s a pricey pie) that’s a crisp $12k in revenues for a 4-5 hour window. Surely for a farm that does these events 8-10 times a month, that revenue helps.
But it all lacked something – experience. Maybe everybody was too strung out waiting for 2 hours – most with young kids. When we stayed at Puddicombe Farms, we were able to learn about the farm, the history and their crops – from the workers/family and from the copious amount of signage/charts displayed. Not to mention a general store to purchase the farm’s products. We loved that.
But here at Red Barn Farm, it was hard to get a glimpse into the life, the pulse of the farm. Isn’t that the purpose of these events – to generate revenues AND raise awareness?
They had a small general store, but it was half empty (no, it was not half full, in retail, shelves are half empty). It lacked charm and a story. The prices seemed high at first glance but there are plenty of people like us, who will pay a premium for an experience, for a story, for a local connection to the product. But that was absent – as was the traffic into the store.
As for the pizza pie – was it worth the wait, was it delicious? No and yes. Had we known ahead of time we’d be parked for 2 hours, we would have passed and saved our driving hours. However it was pretty good, especially the margarita pizza.
But if you can see from the photo below just how thin the pizzas were, two things probably come to mind. First is $25 per pie? Yes, exactly. Second is how is it physically possible to make dough that thin and still hold more ingredients than air? I don’t know, but they did it – at least partially.
If they nailed the experience and expectations though, we would have never looked twice at the pizzas. But they didn’t and we did.