Orange City, Iowa-based Pizza Ranch has made community involvement central to its vision statement, which is “to glorify God by positively impacting the world we live in.” The 170-unit chain is extending that focus from the small Midwestern and Western towns where its restaurants are located to a region in Ethiopia in need of early-education opportunities.
Pizza Ranch now serves 100-percent Ethiopian coffee during buffet service at lunch and dinner, and in the mornings in its community rooms, where many of its guests gather to begin their days. For every pound of coffee it brews this year — the chain projects to serve as many as two million cups — Pizza Ranch will donate 50 cents to Ethiopia Reads.
The decision to partner with Ethiopia Reads and the Tesfa Foundation, which will build schools and local libraries in the Kembata-Tembaro region of Ethiopia, grew out of a personal mission for chief operating officer Jon Moss and his wife, Liz, who adopted two sons, David and Eli, from that region. While traveling to Ethiopia over the past five years during the long international adoption process, Moss saw the need for education in his sons’ homeland and learned that the country’s coffee industry could provide a way for Pizza Ranch to develop a sustainable means of giving back.
“We do so much with our communities locally, and that’s what Pizza Ranch is really all about, but we didn’t have anything larger or overarching around the entire chain,” Moss said.
After Moss and his wife personally contributed money toward the first school in Kembata-Tembaro built by Ethiopia Reads and Tesfa, he was able to make the case to Pizza Ranch’s leadership and franchise community that sourcing coffee from this region and tying it to a charitable cause not only would improve the chain’s coffee offering but also align with the Christian mission statement on which president Adrie Groeneweg founded Pizza Ranch in 1981.
Moss recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the new program.
Why did you want to involve Pizza Ranch in your family’s cause of improving education in Ethiopia?
I was interested in scaling up our coffee program earlier. Learning about Ethiopia’s coffee trade through [the international adoption] process — it was very humbling to watch. I thought, 'Here’s an opportunity to make a difference.'
Ethiopia is known for coffee, and many argue that the finest coffee varietals are grown there. It’s the primary economic driver of Ethiopia. We didn’t know if our boys’ families were coffee farmers, but they could be, and certainly their neighbors are.
I worked for about nine months to a year to pull together the school project and our coffee project, but I had been running into dead ends. A lot has changed in coffee sourcing, which has made it more challenging to get coffee from a more specific area. But in one week, God put everything together: Our coffee supplier figured out how to get coffee from Kembata-Tembaro from a long-term exporter, and Tesfa came back and said it wanted to build five more schools in the next three years.
How did you pitch the partnership to your fellow executives?
To sell this [coffee-sourcing] initiative to our senior leadership and our franchisees — without the school project, I don’t know if it would have happened. But once I shared this with the corporate staff and our franchisees, between those two groups we raised enough money to build the second school before we poured the first cup of coffee. This kind of thing is what we and our franchisees are trying to live out in the restaurants every day, so it was a natural fit, but it was still also very affirming. … Just last week they started school [in the first school supported by this program] with 240 kids and a waiting list. By this time next year, there may be 300 to 500 more children going to school in this area where our coffee is grown.
Could similar sourcing programs fund causes in the United States as well?
The needs at home, while we’re in tough times, are nothing like over there. … The reality in these African rural areas is that these children, if they’re not walking to get water, they won’t have water. It’s a sacrifice for their parents to even let their children go to school. … But in the United States, while we’re not involved in local schools through our farmers or producers, we’re extremely involved in each community through the Wagon Wheels [school fundraising] program. And we’re excited to do more. I won’t say there’s no opportunity, but it’s going to have to be the right fit.
Does the association with Ethiopia Reads generate more interest in or sales of your coffee?
Primarily, our coffee and Coca-Cola products are in the buffet offering for one set price, so it’s not tied as much directly to selling a product. We are going to start testing in 50 locations selling retail bags of coffee, and it would have the exact same give-back features of our program with Ethiopia Reads. I think it would work because we’re overcoming this perception that we’re not coffee experts, and when our guests start learning about the story and can see the in-restaurant marketing materials about what this coffee is doing, it will be successful.
What is the business case for doing a program like this, even for a restaurant chain that does not share Pizza Ranch’s faith-based mission?
You can read many case studies about cause marketing being beneficial for the nonprofit you support, as well as your chain; that can speak for itself. There is opportunity all around us, and it’s about recognizing needs and opportunities to give back. Regardless of faith, that’s a beautiful thing.