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Ingredients for success: Ronnally's stays true to customers, history

Greg and Diana Ehlenz (in blue at left and in black at center, respectively) join with some of their 23 employees at Ronnally's. "We have faithful, good employees," Diana said. Scott Wente / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Greg and Diana Ehlenz bought Ronnally's pizza and pasta restaurant in 2015. Diana said they may look at creating franchise opportunities in the future. Scott Wente / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Greg and Diana Ehlenz had thought about opening a Red's Savoy pizza franchise more than two years ago.

Then they found Ronnally's, Woodbury's oldest restaurant and a turn-key pizza joint that needed an owner. They took over April 15, 2015.

"It was just bizarre how it all happened," Diana recalled. "We were just looking to do our own business and this just pretty much fell in our lap."

Now, with more than two years of restaurant ownership and management under their belt, they are positioning the classic pizza and pasta restaurant for future success and maybe even expansion.

While the Ehlenzes had thought about buying a franchise before they found Ronnally's, now they're thinking about creating their own franchise opportunity. Diana said customers tell them they wish there were other Ronnally's locations in the Twin Cities.

"I really want to kind of let people know that we hear that," she said.

Ronnally's draws from well beyond Woodbury. Diana said regulars from all over the Twin Cities area come in at least once a month. A woman from Lino Lakes makes a weekly stop. Others drive from Hasting, Plymouth and elsewhere.

"It's just amazing how many people travel to come to Ronnally's," she said.

Customers have been coming to Ronnally's for decades. According to the restaurant history Diana has pieced together, the first Ronnally's was opened by Ron Henry and his wife, Allison, at White Bear Avenue and Minnehaha Avenue in St. Paul in 1970. They opened other locations, including in North St. Paul and White Bear Lake.

The Woodbury location opened in 1973 in a strip mall on Woodlane Drive just north of Valley Creek Road. It's still at that location 44 years later.

The Ehlenzes, who have lived in Woodbury since 1999, bought Ronnally's after Greg left his second stint in banking. He ran Ronnally's full time while Diana split her time among the restaurant, her full-time job at Ebenezer Senior Living's corporate office and her jewelry and accessories retail business. She joined Greg at Ronnally's full time in January 2016.

When they bought the restaurant, they installed new booths, replaced the flooring, remodeled the bathrooms, improved the food prep room and changed the window treatments.

They kept the original slate oven, which makes really good pizza, Greg said.

"It's a traditional oven," he said.

The menu saw few changes. They added some desserts and salads, but kept the pizzas they're known for and continue pushing the pastas.

The menu is loaded with options. There are nine classic pizzas along with create-your-own and gluten-free options. Pastas range from spaghetti to baked ravioli. Sandwiches include the popular Classic Hot Dago. Four salads, a list of starters and sides fill out the menu.

Ronnally's also allows customers to bring in their own alcoholic beverage to have with their meal.

In this business, there is no shortage of competition. Diana counts at least 17 restaurants serving pizza in Woodbury. The Ehlenzes said they focus on being true to their customers and they rely on the same recipes that have served the restaurant well for decades.

"It's tough, it really is, but our reputation really keeps us alive," she said.

Social media has helped. Ronnally's is ranked the top restaurant in Woodbury on TripAdvisor, a top travel website. Diana said they don't pay for reviews.

"People just do it because they love us," she said. "A lot of people still thank us for staying open."

Ultimately, customer service is key, Diana said. She tries to greet customers when they arrive, check in on them during their meal and say goodbye as they leave.

"I just want to treat everybody as if they were a guest at our home," she said.

Ronnally's, 1560 Woodlane Drive, is open for dine-in, take-out and delivery from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Ronnally's used to open at 4 p.m. on Sunday, but recently it started opening at noon to accommodate the football and holiday seasons. They'll revert to a later Sunday start in the spring. For more information, call 651-739-3823.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

(651) 459-7600