St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
May 19, 2008
HE'S BACK, MAKING PIZZA WITH PIZAZZ
AFTER TAKING A BREAK FROM THE BUSINESS, RANDY HUEFFMEIER RETURNS TO HIS
OAKDALE RESTAURANT AND THE WORLD OF INTERNATIONAL PIZZA COMPETITION.
Author: Megan Boldt firstname.lastname@example.org
Edition: St. Paul
Randy Hueffmeier is back to doing what he does best -- tossing dough and
fussing over ingredients at his Oakdale pizza shop.
He's also back into competitive pizza-making as a member of the World
Pizza Champions Team, a U.S. group that tours the globe to perform and
Hueffmeier took seven years off from pizza-making at Randy's Premier Pizza
to dabble in real estate.
"When you've been doing something for 23 or 24 years, it's hard to always
love it," Hueffmeier said. "It's fun to find that enthusiasm again."
Hueffmeier traveled to the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in April,
where he grabbed the finalist title for the Mid-America Region. Later that
month, he competed in the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy,
where he placed in the top 10 in dough stretching.
"Here, pizza has become a discount product," Hueffmeier said. "But (in
Italy), it's a way of life."
Hueffmeier began his pizza ca! reer delivering for Domino's when he was
18 and a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Domino's wanted
him to join its management program, but he was hesitant to take on that
responsibility while still in school. After he was evicted from his apartment
and needed cash, he changed his mind.
Hueffmeier learned the ropes from Domino's, then he and a buddy started
their own business in 1986.
"We thought we could do more for the customer and give them a better
pizza," Hueffmeier said.
He eventually found a pizza shop for sale in Oakdale, just four blocks
from his childhood home in North St. Paul.
Hueffmeier got involved in the competitive circuit in the late 1980s,
winning national and international awards for dough spinning and making
deep-dish pizza. Spinning dough takes some natural ability, a lot of practice
and a love for what you're doing, he said. Beyond basic hand-tossing skills,
spinners need to throw in some creativity and dance moves! .
Hueffmeier admits he doesn't practice nearly as much a! s he sho uld,
but some of his younger teammates practice two to three hours a day.
When Hueffmeier isn't competing in distant countries, he creates a competitive
spirit at his Oakdale restaurant.
Customers can take part in Randy's Pizza Challenge, where four people
have 30 minutes to eat a 30-inch two-topping pizza.
If they finish it, it's free. And they get a shirt that says, "I can't
believe I ate the whole thing." If they can't shovel it all in, they pay
$75. And they get a shirt that says, "I can't believe I almost ate the
More than 100 people have taken him up on the offer; only about 10 percent
have met the challenge.
"It's not impossible," he said. "But it's definitely a lot harder than
Hueffmeier also brings kids behind the counter to make their own pies.
And it's not unusual to find his wife, Gina, or 6-year-old daughter, Sarah,
working by his side.
"We've diluted the mom-and-pop shops by moving toward th! e big boxes,"
Hueffmeier said. "But we long to be taken care of by the little guy, the
small neighborhood business."
That's part of the reason Margaret Nielsen, of Oakdale, has been a loyal
customer. Randy's Premier Pizza has the best pizza in town, she said, and
an excellent staff.
Nielsen could order delivery since she lives just a mile away. But she
likes to pick up her pizza -- always a thin crust pepperoni with fresh
mushrooms -- so she can stop in and visit.
"Randy always gives me a hug. The employees are nice, and they always
call me by first name," Nielsen said. "I've eaten pizza at many other
places, but it's just not the same."
Mike Eggert, of Lake Elmo, doesn't recall what initially brought him to
Randy's Premier Pizza about 20 years ago. It could have been a coupon or
one of Hueffmeier's appearances at a school to show kids how to make pizza.
But he knows what brings him back -- great sauce, flavor and the guy running
the business. ! When Eggert's children come home from college, one of the
firs! t things they say is, "Let's go to Randy's."
"The quality of the pizza is great ... and Randy is just a great guy.
It's a combination of the food and the person behind it," Eggert said.
"Once you find a great thing, why go elsewhere?"
Hueffmeier is heading back to Italy in June for the World Pizza Cup in
Naples. His goal is to make an authentic pizza margherita that will pass
the Italians' high standards.
He's experimenting with doughs, sauces and cheeses to get the right combo
for the best flavor.
"Some people mess up quantity with quality," Hueffmeier said. "Less
is more. It's really about the flavor and the taste."
Photo: PIONEER PRESS: BRANDI JADE THOMAS
Randy Hueffmeier shows off a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at his Oakdale
restaurant, Randy's Premier Pizza. Hueffmeier learned the ropes from
Domino's, then he and a friend started their own business in 1986. "We
thought we could do more for the customer and give them a better pizza."
Copyright 2008 Saint Paul Pioneer Press
Record Number: 0805190048