Lion Development baking up big plans for Pizza Ranches

Outside the North Liberty Pizza Ranch, where renovations have begun. The space is expected to reopen in March with more seats, three party rooms and a FunZone Arcade. PHOTO ADAM MOORE

By Katharine Carlon

Two Corridor-area Pizza Ranches are getting high-end makeovers, the latest in restaurateur and real estate investor Brandon Pratt’s efforts to supercharge his growing portfolio of locations with additional seating, delivery options and FunZone Arcades.

Mr. Pratt, whose Lion Development Group owns and operates Pizza Ranches in Illinois and Iowa, including locations in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and one coming soon in Marion, took ownership of the North Liberty Pizza Ranch at 395 Beaver Kreek Centre and an adjacent former massage parlor on Nov. 1.

In a “down to the stud wall” remodel of the now combined properties, he plans to reopen in North Liberty by early March with 195 seats, three party rooms and a FunZone Arcade featuring machines that allow kids to cash in their “winnings” for prizes.

Further north, Lion Development plans to add 3,400 square feet to the Pizza Ranch at 2450 Westdale Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. The expansion, the largest ever for the 209-store, 18-state chain, will bring the restaurant’s square footage to just under 10,000 square feet. The revamped restaurant is expected to be complete in January, making way for four new party rooms (for a total of six), as well as 90 new seats and a FunZone nearly double the size of the group’s first arcade project in Iowa City.

“I’m very proud of the Iowa City location, which is number one [chainwide] in year-over-year sales,” said Mr. Pratt of the $1.5 million-plus 171 Highway 1 W. location. Iowa City was Lion Development’s first foray into “new look,” arcade-equipped Pizza Ranches, and opened last year.

“We’re up 53 percent since we moved out of the [former] Sycamore Mall,” he said. “We want to give back to the community and we know there are a few key demographics looking for places like this. Families and children, people looking for places for birthday parties. We want to be the first spot families think of when they think of eating out or birthday parties.”

The Iowa City Pizza Ranch has transformed into what he called a “birthday party capital,” serving 200-300 kids per day on the weekends.

The success of the Iowa City project, which includes 7,500 square feet of space, seating for up to 235 customers and Lion Development’s first FunZone Arcade led to the September announcement it would build a new 7,600-square-foot restaurant and arcade in Marion near the intersection of Highways 13 and 151 at Squaw Creek Crossing.

“Marion is a place I’ve wanted to come to for quite a while,” Mr. Pratt said at the time. “I know there’s a huge need in this area with easy highway access and traffic to Prospect Meadows. Our main demographic is family and children and the amount of people this area will generate really just made sense to us. It’s going to be a very different Pizza Ranch than Marion is used to.”

As “a North Liberty guy” who went to Penn Elementary where his four sons now attend, Mr. Pratt said he was especially excited about being able to take over the Beaver Kreek Centre location, which had previously been in the hands of the same family since 1996.

“North Liberty really needed a fun place for families needing somewhere to go,” he said, adding that the remodeling project there would bring the location “up to brand standards,” including an arcade room similar in size to the one in Iowa City. The same “lean design” model includes a single-side buffet with staff using pass-through windows to keep hot food, including the chain’s famous pizza and broasted chicken, coming.

Mr. Pratt said the North Liberty location would be getting new signage and cohesive décor conforming with brand colors and logos.

Plans are a bit bigger for the Westdale restaurant, which will become the Orange City, Iowa-based chain’s second largest nationally. The location will offer a “Buffet Your Way!” option enabling patrons to order personally prepared pizzas with their own favorite topping combinations in addition to the arcade and about 40 percent more space for parties and patrons.

The two new locations will mean about 30-40 new jobs in North Liberty and 10-15 in Cedar Rapids, which Mr. Pratt said already had a solid staff in place. He also anticipates being able to offer longer and more reliable delivery hours throughout the week.

Mr. Pratt was among the first wave of Pizza Ranch franchise owners to include a FunZone Arcade, something that has generated a second profitable income stream and, as he explained to other franchise owners on the company website, is “just fun.”

“It gives so much energy to the crew, guests, and restaurant environment,” he said. “We’re a restaurant and an entertainment center. It’s the best of both worlds. “We’re trying to be a place with delicious and craveable food and a great place to spend time with your family — and we knock it out of the park.”