The expansive photos serving as the background to each page on Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm’s website say it all: Nature is a main player in the experience.
Trees surrounding a huge lawn, a watercolor sky cascading into the distance, walking trails through fields of tall grass — it’s a 55-acre piece of heaven in rural Waseca.
This is what makes a wedding perfect to some brides. Not fancy hotels or event centers. Just a big barn, friends and family, and beautiful, rural Minnesota scenery.
“It’s one of our favorite places in the state,” said Laura Schultz, who is having her wedding with fiancé Colin Scharf at the pizza farm in August. “We fell in love with it the first time we saw our friend Ian Hilmer play there, and we wanted to share it with everyone we love and care about.”
Emily Knudsen, who runs the business with Bill Bartz, went to school for event planning and has worked weddings for more than a decade. So it was only natural that the couple would include special events, such as weddings, groom’s dinners, corporate meetings, workshops, birthday parties and employee picnics, among other things, in their venture when starting Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm in 2015.
The event side of the business has really taken off. People who want a casual, informal atmosphere love the vibe of the place, Knudsen said.
The barn fits up to 130 people, and unlike the regularly scheduled pizza farm days, for special events they provide tables and chairs. Renting the farm also guarantees use of the sound system and kitchen, the fire ring and yard games.
For a smaller event, such as a birthday party, the venue rental fee is $250. The pizzas are an additional cost.
If a couple rents the farm for a wedding Friday through Sunday morning to host a groom’s dinner, the ceremony and reception, the cost is $2,500. Again, the pizzas are a separate cost.
“The pizzas are on a buffet line,” Knudsen said. “It’s very informal, very casual.”
Bartz bought the property in 2007 and built a house and barn. He met Knudsen, who grew up in Red Wing, in 2013. Knudsen told him about a pizza farm she had gone to in Stockholm, Wis.
“He said, ‘What’s a pizza farm?’ I said, ‘Why don’t I take you to one?’” Knudsen said.
The couple visited Stockholm, and just a few minutes into the visit, Bartz realized that they could incorporate such a vision into their land because the concept was so simple.
People are invited onto the farm and asked to bring their own snacks, beverages (including alcohol if over 21), plates, napkins, chairs, blankets and anything else they might want to make themselves comfortable. Bartz and Knudsen just make and sell pizza.
“When you go, you take it all with you. Pack in and pack out,” Knudsen said.
In 2015, with the help of family and friends, they started landscaping and building a certified kitchen in the barn. The initial building and remodeling investment was minimal.
By the middle of August that year, they invited the public to try them out and see what worked and what didn’t, and to see if the community would embrace the business.
“Of course you’re nervous because what if it doesn’t work? But more so we were confidant it would,” Knudsen said.
Amber Power of Mankato is one visitor who definitely thinks the business works.
“Loved it! Great and unique pizza,” she said. “(The) kids enjoyed the animals and the space to run. It would be a fun place for a casual party or reception.”
As the farm’s popularity has rapidly grown (this is their third full season open), they have made upgrades, including to the kitchen.
“Every season we slowly kind of add and progress the landscaping and progress the kitchen,” she said. “Last year we added a six-burner range and a hood.”
This season they are adding a second oven to keep up with the demand for pizzas, made with homemade crusts and sauce, which include:
Pig + Pork: Red sauce, spicy sausage, pepperoni, green olives, shredded mozzarella ($25).
Lola: Basil-infused olive oil, tomato, basil, kalamata olives, garlic salt, fresh and shredded mozzarella ($24).
Neapolitan: Red sauce, basil, fresh mozzarella ($20).
The Buster: Basil-infused olive oil, spicy sausage, caramelized onions, portabella mushrooms, basil, garlic salt, fresh and shredded mozzarella ($25).
Pizza Fries: Garlic-infused olive oil, fresh and shredded mozzarella, garlic salt and a side of homemade red sauce ($20).
One pizza that’s not on the website is the Sweet Georgia Pie, named after their goat. The ingredients are: garlic-infused olive oil, goat cheese, prosciutto, fresh arugula, shredded mozzarella and honey produced on the farm. They also make a weekly feature pizza.
The pizza (available gluten free) and the ambiance have contributed to rapid growth in pizza farm business and special event rentals.
“I have been really happy with the growth,” Knudsen said. “Overall, in the grand scheme of things, I feel like we’re right on pace, especially as a unique dining place/restaurant.”
Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm
Open 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, 1-7 p.m. Sundays through September.
Open Sundays only in October.