Missoula Restaurant Owners & Chefs:
Will & Kiira Bauerle – Bob’s Pizza, Pretzel Place and Freemo’s

By BOB ZIMORINO

“Owners and Chefs” is a restaurant section with a twist. To fill either position, chefs and owners must be able to wear many hats: Cook, server, human resource manager, repair person, negotiator, mediator, psychologist, bookkeeper, and more.  Armed with his top 10 questions, Bob Zimorino takes a peek behind the kitchen doors to find out how these local restaurateurs view the restaurant business in their own words.

Wind the clock back:

I have known Bob Bauerle (pronounced bow-er-lee) since the mid-eighties. We have both been in the pizza business in Missoula for a very long time and I can’t count the number of times I have been asked if I am the Bob from Bob’s Pizza.  He is also a native New Yorker but from the other end of the state from where I grew up. Although we were both vying for some of the same pizza dollars, I never felt like either of us were ever negative toward each other. We have always had a friendlyrelationship.

Fast forward to 2011:

If I close my eyes in this interview Bob’s son Will, sounds exactly like him. Open my eyes and he even looks like him. I am seated with Will and his wife Kiira for my first husband/wife interview for the series. They are the managing partners for the Missoula based restaurant chain.

There are a lot of pizzas in Missoula. Why should a prospective diner choose yours?

Will: I think our pizza is unique. There are other pizzas by the slice but we have a thicker crust style of pizza than most. Are we talking just pizza? Because at Bob’s we have calzones, which have caught on recently but we have been doing them for 27 years. They’re pretty popular.

Kiira: The famous Bobby Cheesebread!

Will: Yeah, that was introduced by one of our district managers years ago and took right off. That is our biggest seller with the high school students during the school lunch rush.

What dish is your signature dish and why that particular dish?

Will: Pepperoni Pizza

Kiira: That’s the number one seller.

Will: Because (at Bob’s) we are doing pizza by the slice, it’s not like we can specialize it like if they are buying a whole pie.

Kiira: At Bob’s we really only have about 5 varieties where as at Freemo’s there are a lot more exciting options.

Will: Yeah at Freemo’s we have the Hot Wing Pizza.

Kiira: Yeah at Freemo’s it’s our number one seller. Instead of the red sauce it’s got hot sauce with mozzarella and cheddar mixed and Buffalo chicken.

What would you want it to say to the person that ordersit?

Will: Wow I paid $5 for an all you can eat buffet and this is a good slice of pizza.

What is your favorite dish prepared in another Missoula restaurant?

Will: Tough question because I eat in our restaurants 99% of the time.

Kiira: Probably something from Taco Sano.

Will: Yeah the chicken burrito. I like that you can customize and they don’t nickel and dime you for every topping that you put on it.

 

 

As a place to do business, why Missoula?

Will: My mom’s parents live near Corvallis and my folks were living with them for a while, of course years ago. My dad had worked as a manager for Piece of the Pie in Billings and was familiar with the operation and so when the mall store came up for sale, it was just kind of an opportunity that presented itself.  From there we were able to develop some other concepts like the Pretzel Place and Freemo’s.

BZ: How many locations do you have for all of your ventures?

Kiira: We have 10 stores right now.

Will: We’re in Casper Wyoming, Greeley Colorado, Rapid City South Dakota, Albany Oregon, Redding California and we’re opening a Bob’s Pizza in Bismarck North Dakota at the end of this month.

Kiira: and of course Missoula.

Will: There is a Bob’s Pizza Plus in Bozeman but Bob sold it years ago to the manager. The rest are company owned.

What is your least favorite cooking trend?

Kiira: Probably the gluten free thing.  Based on our research on it I don’t think it is a direction we can take.

Will: There is so much flour in the air in the building that if you say gluten free and some is truly intolerant of gluten you are liable for their well being.

BZ: We had the same issue at Red Pies. There is no way anything coming out of that building will be gluten free.

You mentioned all of your businesses, only one was a Freemo’s. Have you decided not to pursue that concept in othermarkets?

Will: Initially we tried it in two markets, Bozeman and Missoula. In all honesty Freemo’s has been a struggle coming from a mall atmosphere to a stand alone restaurant. You know it is like trying to strike a balance between maintaining everything and trying to figure out how to market it as a destination rather than the mall which is a destination. This goes back to the first question you asked me which is how do I get that place to be Freemo’s.

Kiira: With everything else that we do in malls we really don’t have the time or resources for more than one stand alone restaurant right now. In the malls we don’t have to worry as much about marketing and advertising. You’re wandering around the mall and you start thinking “What sounds good?”

How do you like working with your father?

Will: My father has been a great role model for me. I grew up wanting to be Bob. Over all it’s great but sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating. We are different people. I can understand that he is set in his ways being successful for 27 years but we have seen some things mostly with technology. He has been open to new things but he resists a little bit in the beginning sometimes but overall it’s been great.

BZ: How about working with your wife?

Will: It’s great. We have great relationship that allows us to be together all the time. I mean when we’re opening stores we’re together 24 hours a day. There are times we get on each others nerves and I need to be more patient. We’re bad at separating business from pleasure. We try to mix the two but there isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t thinking about business, talking about business or getting calls about business. We’ll be driving in the car and I will start coming up with a new idea about business and she will tell me that she is done with business now and to put a lid on it.

BZ: Kiira, at what point once you got into this family and their business did you realize “Oh my God I’m in it up to my neck?”

Kiira: Oh right from the start. We moved over here and worked for three months at Freemo’s. We didn’t have a day off for the first two weeks and worked 14 hour days. I was in it.

BZ: What is it like working with your husband’s family?

Kiira: Truly the hardest part is working when Will and Bob interact. Will is a great mix of his mom and dad’s personalities but when he works with his dad he becomes like his dad and he just loses that balance and I end up with 2 Bob’s.

BZ: How about for you working with your husband. How is it?

Kiira: Will is definitely an overachiever and takes on more projects than I do but I think we have a pretty good balance. Now that I have had this job I can’t imagine doing any other job. We just work really well together.

What do you think when you hear someone say: “I think owning a restaurant looks like fun.”

Will: It is fun. It’s a lot like a lot of other jobs; it looks glamorous from the outside. It is fun. It can be extremely rewarding at times but at times it can be very challenging.

Kiira: It’s hard work. If somebody is looking at it from the outside and saying “I want to own a restaurant”, well it’s a lot of work. They probably aren’t seeing or don’t know all of the pieces that it takes to put it together, especially if it’s a full service place. What we do in the malls requires a lot less pieces. Freemo’s is already a ton more and it’s a buffet. You know full service where you’re dealing with wait staff and all the rest… (she trails off)

Give me 5 words to describe your restaurant.

Will: Quick, Tasty, Visually Appealing, Fresh

BZ: Thanks you guys.

Will and Kiira: Thank you Bob.

 

Checkout Missoula Restaurants and our comprehensive list of Missoula Dining options.  You may also want to watch Bob Zimorino’s Taste It blog or even watch one of his many video blogs–including this one on Chicken Picatta!

See the “Taste It” archive.  Check out Bob’s recipes.

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Bio:  Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a Musician with the popular local band Hellgate Rodeo, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in hislifetime.