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This Pizza Ranch franchisee is on a mission to help First Nations tribe members get into franchising

Dennis Johnson is about to open his second franchised store with Pizza Ranch in Nebraska and wants to help other First Nations people get into the business

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

This week in Franchisee Spotlight, we’re featuring Dennis Johnson, a First Nations member of the Red Lake band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota who expanded his career from economic development in the Winnebago Tribe community to becoming a Pizza Ranch franchisee. As he is about to open his second location, Johnson still wants to help his community through helping to inspire his people and connect them to jobs within the franchising industry.

Store count: One Pizza Ranch in Minnesota with a second to come in Nebraska


I've done a lot of different things with my entrepreneurship and finance background. I have a master’s degree in accounting from the University of South Dakota. […] I started as a controller for a couple of different companies that and then landed upon the company that I'm with currently with: I’m CIO of Ho Chunk Incorporated, which is wholly owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and I’ve been there for 15 years. We have a goal of providing economic development and job opportunities to tribal members and diversify income for tribes that have become to rely on gaming as a main revenue source. […] We build everything from new apartment complexes to urban revitalization and do some real estate development.”

The Road to Franchising

“After years of helping others reach their goals through my role with the Winnebago tribe, I wanted to create my own destiny and my own future career. I stumbled upon the Pizza Ranch opportunity back in June 2020, right in the midst of COVID. A mutual friend thought that Bemidji, Minn. would be a great Pizza Ranch market, and we teamed up together and jumped in and started working on it. We found the land and will be literally opening the doors in the next two to three weeks. […] being part of that, and engaging with my tribe, on a business level, and doing ministry and outreach in that area, is really what genuinely connected me with the opportunity for the Pizza Ranch franchise the right time.”

Why Pizza Ranch

“I live in the heart of Pizza Ranch country and have […]  spent the last couple decades as a consumer. When we travel, it’s one of our first choices if it’s available. You really have to like your product first and foremost or else you have to fake it, right? […] I wanted to join something whose values match up with my own family values. […] and the product is great: It's a family environment, great entertainment options, along with great food options. But most importantly, when I think about what I wanted to invest our future, it had to be with a team of people in a group like Pizza Ranch.”


I've got we've got hopes and visions to keep this going. So, I'm looking at additional markets in the future. I could envision having a dozen or more stores, but I don't have anything specific right now. But seeing as how Pizza Ranch is looking to expanding from 220+ stores to double their portfolio over the next several years, we definitely want to be a part of that and bring the franchise to new states.”

How Franchising Can Help Tribes Across the Country

“We indirectly help a lot of different tribes, about 125+ tribes have from across the US that traveled here, flown here, spent a couple of days with us to see how we’ve been successful with developing our communities. […] I envision being able to help other tribes follow this franchising model, because one of the most frequent questions that most of these tribes come here are ‘what opportunities do we have? What could we do? What widget would we sell?’ I love franchising, because it takes all of that wandering and thought process, and it gives you that development system, and processes and a business model that you can just literally execute and follow. […] I envision having tribal partners in the future and helping tribes develop, whether it's through a Pizza Ranch franchise or other areas too. I think tribes throughout the US have an opportunity here to be able to execute on a franchise model and take a lot of the risk and unknowns out of the equation.”

TAGS: Fast Casual
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