By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN There’s a new pie in town since Lester Prairie residents Jeff and Kelly Hecksel moved their pizza business from Norwood Young America to their hometown, and began serving customers Wednesday.
The name, Cents Pizza, comes from the first letter of the names of each of their five children, Christopher, Elizabeth, Nathan, Trenten, and Ashley (for the purpose of the name, Sashley, Kelly explained).
In addition to Jeff and Kelly, the business currently employs 10 people. This includes a few who were previously employed in the business when it was in Norwood Young America. One is from Winsted, and the rest are Lester Prairie residents.
The highlight of the business is the pizza.
The Hecksels have owned pizza restaurants in other cities for more than a decade, and Cents Pizza is the product of that experience.
The pizzas are available in three crust styles thin, deep dish, and pan.
There are 20 toppings available, and 11 specialty pizzas.
Specialty choices include bacon cheeseburger pizza, german pizza (sausage and sauerkraut), hot, hot lava (pepperoni and extra jalapeno peppers), garden vegetable, steak lovers (red sauce blended with steak sauce, steak, and mushrooms), and taco pizza.
The house red sauce is Kelly’s own creation. She spent three months developing the sauce to get it just right.
Jeff said he uses Minnesota products whenever possible.
The 100 percent real cheese comes from Bongards Creameries, the meats come from Hormel, and the chicken comes from Golden Plump.
The dough comes from the Dough Shop in Burnsville.
The Hecksels use Appert’s Foodservice of St. Cloud.
The pizzas are baked in a 500-degree brick oven. Jeff explained that this is not the most efficient way to bake pizzas, but he insists on it because of the way the pizza tastes.
“There is no comparison,” he commented.
For a small additional charge, Cents Pizza delivers to a number of area communities, including Lester Prairie ($1.25), Winsted and New Germany ($2.80), Plato ($3.25), and Mayer, Glencoe, and Silver Lake ($4.45). Jeff said delivery is also available to the rural areas between the cities listed.
In addition to pizza, the restaurant offers fresh, breaded, deep-fried chicken.
“People will be surprised at how good it tastes,” Jeff commented.
There is also a fresh salad bar, and the Hecksels hope to have a pizza buffet available in the near future.
Cents Pizza also offers a variety of appetizers, baskets, and pasta dinners.
For those who have a bit of a sweet tooth, Cents Pizza offers both apple and cherry dessert pizzas, and cini-bites, deep-fried morsels which have a cinnamon filling and a sugar glaze.
The family-friendly theme suggested by the name is evident throughout the business.
Cents Pizza does not sell alcoholic beverages.
Some of the Hecksels’ help out at the business, and the restaurant is designed to be family-friendly and provide a place for young people to spend time.
There is a game room with a variety of video games.
For couples or those who prefer a quieter environment, the front room offers a calmer environment.
Kelly said they plan to implement a teen night one Friday each month that may include a DJ playing music.
For the children, Cents Pizza offers a package birthday deal. The deal includes two large one-topping pizzas, $10 in quarters for the video games, and an eight-inch birthday cake decorated by Lester Prairie resident Bertha Ide, owner of Bertha’s Edible Art. With a week notice, the cake can be personalized for the child.
Kelly will also decorate the restaurant for the birthday party. The cost of the package is $60, and it serves eight people.
In addition to Cents Pizza, Kelly operates a day care service out of their home.
Jeff worked a full-time job while they operated Cents Pizza in Norwood, but he quit that job to focus on the business in Lester Prairie. However, Jeff still works as a real estate agent on the side.
Kelly said it is nice to be able to spend more time with Jeff.
“She’s my soulmate,” Jeff commented. He added that he is looking forward to being able to spend more time with his children.
Jeff said the advantage of owning an independent business is the flexibility it provides.
“When you own a franchise, you have to follow their rules,” he commented.
He explained that because Cents Pizza is independent, he can try whatever he wants.
The steak lovers specialty pizza is an example of this. A customer at the Norwood Young America location asked if they had such a pizza, which he had tried at another restaurant. Jeff asked what was on it, and, after some experimentation, he added it to the menu.
“Franchises can’t do that,” Jeff said.
Cents Pizza is located in the former Scooters building at 524 Central Avenue in downtown Lester Prairie. The phone number is (320) 395-4117.
Hours are Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.