Ole & Lena’s Pizzeria in Rothsay, Minnesota, is closing its doors at the end of the year.
This decision did not come easy for owner Shane Balken. He said he has struggled with mixed emotions over which direction to move forward for some time.
“This place has been more than just a job or a career for me,” Balken said. “It started out as a dream, turned into reality and has taken some wild turns that I never expected.”
About two years into the more than 10-year business, Balken wanted to do a concession trailer to increase the availability of his pizzas. They are made on the spot, have become popular and Balken also really enjoyed it.
Unfortunately, summers get very hectic with trying to run the restaurants. At some point, Balken continued, it quit being fun.
Even though the restaurant is closing, Balken still intends to keep the trailer going as he should have more time to devote to it. He primarily takes the trailer within a 50-mile radius.
Balken started other locations over the years, either closing or selling them. There is still an Ole & Lena’s in the Fargo area that he sold to a former manager. He said it is not a franchise, simply a retention of the name.
The frozen pizza end of the business started about three years ago as a way to keep the business going throughout the year. Since winters are pretty quiet around Rothsay, Balken thought it would be a good way to generate more revenue. He had always had an interest in doing such and it has really taken off.
Manufacturing the pizzas is done in Faribault, Minnesota, and Balken does all the distribution himself. He currently distributes to approximately 60 locations. He doesn’t dare take on any more at this time, simply due to the lack of time to service them.
The first frozen pizzas started as a fundraising event for the junior class at Breckenridge High School in Breckenridge, Minnesota. Someone from Econofoods tasted them and inquired if he would be interested in putting them in a store. After saying yes, the frozen pizza business just started to take off.
“At several points over the last 12 years, I have had three different stores at the same time,” Balken said. “That is in addition to the frozen pizza and the concession trailer in the summers. At some point, things start to give and it was just time to make a change.”
The last two years have been the most stressful, Balken said, primarily due to employee issues. “I want to say, that having multiple stores does not mean you make more money,” he added. “But it certainly meant more headaches.”
It is sad thinking back at all the work that has gone into the business, Balken added. It will be hard to walk in the restaurant when it is no longer his, but he knows it will be all good when the new owner, Justin Matheson, turns it into a BBQ place.
“I would have failed multiple times if it were not for the incredible customer base and support I have had,” Balken said. “This needed to be a destination from the beginning, and I am fortunate that people wanted to come over here and try it. The surrounding towns like Breckenridge, Wahpeton, and Fergus Falls have been amazing supporters over the years.”
Since the business closure was announced, Balken said business has been crazy. Sales have doubled and he is amazed at the outpouring of support from everyone and just hopes that people understand why now is the time to make this change.
After Ole & Lena’s restaurant closes, you will still find Balken working the concession trailer in the summer. The frozen pizza line will not be going anywhere either.