Florida Keys Business
Sunday, October 14, 2012

An estimated 350 slices of pizza are eaten in this country every second. And in Key West, approximately 3,000 of them come every day from the conveyor belt-like ovens of Domino's Pizza on North Roosevelt Boulevard.

The pizza giant that pioneered delivery canceled its 30-minute delivery guarantee in 1993, but the Key West location was still averaging 24-minute delivery times -- until the construction started.

Like so many North Roosevelt business owners, the roadway overhaul has become a benchmark in time, separating life "before the construction" and the more challenging life "since the construction."

Domino's Pizza franchise owner Dale Ranson said his customers, for the most part, have all been really understanding about the traffic and construction delays.

"Now our average is right around 30 minutes," he said. "But most people have been really patient; they know what it's like out there for our drivers."

Mot are also happy to wait a few extra minutes for a pizza if it means someone else will be navigating the detours and traffic stand-stills of New Town these days.

Ranson estimated last week that his Key West store churns out an average of 300-400 pizzas per day. That translates to about 1,500 pounds of mozzarella cheese every week.

Ranson has been involved with the pizza giant since 1980, when we started what he called his "first real job" delivering pizzas for Domino's in North Carolina.

Since then, the active and hands-on owner worked in California, Alabama, Colorado and Florida. He has delivered pizzas, made pizzas, managed Domino's stores and then inspected hundreds of them in the Southeast region for the Michigan-based corporation. He and his wife, Janet, bought their first franchise in 2006, when the Key West Domino's was located in Key Plaza next to Radio Shack.

"It was actually one of the stores I had inspected for the corporate job," he said while sitting in a booth at the North Roosevelt location. "The owner had told me he wanted to sell, and here we are."

The ovens moved to the Overseas Market and the larger building that formerly was Dunkin Donuts about two years ago.

"In the old location, we were about 80 percent delivery and 20 percent carryout, but here we're about 50/50," he said, attributing the switch to the larger dining room, the drive-through window at the new location and the local specials that Ranson offers to bring people into the store.

Some of the promotions and specials are nationwide and dictated by the corporation, while franchise owners are also free to design their own specials based on their community, he said, using the company's new pan pizza as an example.

"Everyone is offering the medium, two-topping pan pizza for $7.99," he said, but other specials, like weekday carryout discounts are available only in Key West.

One customer last week had ordered his second pan pizza in as many nights, and told Ranson, "It tastes as good as it looks on television, and that almost never happens."

Ranson himself is a traditionalist when it comes to pizza. Anything more than two toppings and you run the risk of not tasting the sauce, crust or cheese, he said.

The Ranson family also owns the Domino's Pizza franchises in Key Largo, Tavernier and North Miami Beach. The Key West location is a true family operation with the Ransons' 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twins always helping at the counter or in the kitchen.

"I've never gotten tired of pizza," Ranson said in answer to the expected question of whether he's sick of one of America's favorite foods.

He walked through the spotless kitchen, where employees were assembling the familiar red, white and blue boxes, ladling sauce onto crusts, expertly spreading cheese and evenly distributing toppings. "You'd think after more than 30 years I'd be sick of pizza, but I'm not. I still love it."

The additional menu items that the company has added over the years also help keep things interesting.

"Just since I've owned the store, they've added pastas, oven-baked sandwiches, chicken," he said. "And the new pizza recipe has really helped us a lot. Pizza still represents 80 percent of our business."

The company, which now includes more than 10,000 stores worldwide, rolled out a new pizza recipe with much fanfare in 2009, heralding their quality ingredients, crusts and new sauce. And people seem to like it.

The Key West store takes orders until 3 a.m. every morning, and a certificate on one wall congratulates Ranson for a record-breaking week of pizza sales -- at the end of October, when the island had just welcomed tens of thousands of revelers for the annual Fantasy Fest bacchanalia.

Fantasy Fest and Spring Break are two of the busiest times for the local pizza business, as the connection among beer, pizza and hangovers was cemented decades ago by college students all over America. At one North Carolina college in the mid-1990s, the local Domino's franchise actually accepted the students' meal plan cards.

The local franchise sells slices at the high school football games, hosts pizza parties for community events and private birthdays, and keeps their prices as low or lower than Domino's locations on the mainland, Ranson emphasized while organizing pies that were awaiting pick-up, and checking the computer monitors in the kitchen.

He also expressed gratitude once again to his customers, who have been patient with his drivers, as they do their best to safely get from the boulevard to Truman Annex -- and silently say a prayer of thanks that the company ended its legendary 30-minute guarantee years ago.


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