A couple years ago when I was up in Grand Forks, ND for a meeting with a prospective dealer, I was looking for a place to eat one evening. I found a place called Rhombus Guys Pizza that looked interesting, but it was also packed full of people. I ended up eating at the Toasted Frog that evening (see my entry here) and had a pretty good meal. But I always had Rhombus Guys Pizza in the back of my mind. When I was up in Fargo earlier this summer, I was talking with my dealer about food options for the evening. He was telling me, "Oh, man! We've had about seven really good pizza places open up in the past few months." He named a couple of them and then he said, "Rhombus Guys is a good pizza."
I said, "Wait! There's a Rhombus Guys in Fargo?"
He said, "Sure!" I immediately said I want to go get one of their pizzas. He said, "That's good! It's walking distance from my store!" He wasn't kidding. We went down an alley, walked up 7th St. to Main Ave. and walked down the block to Rhombus Guys (see map). Even though it was close to 9 p.m., the place was packed. That's usually a good sign.
Once again, the back story to how Rhombus Guys got started is pretty interesting.
Back in the spring of 2000, two friends from the Thief River Falls area of Northwest Minnesota - Arron Hendricks and Matt Winjum (pictured at right - Hendricks in the red shirt and Winjum in the blue. Photo courtesy WDAY.com) - decided to make some money on their own before they went off to college. Winjum had a job working for the parks and recreation department in his hometown, but wanted to be his own boss. Along with Hendricks, their idea was to build a smoothie cart and take it around to some events and gatherings around the lake vacation areas of Northwest Minnesota. They had an old snowmobile trailer as a base and began to build the shell for the smoothie cart. Finding out that their carpentry skills weren't quite up to snuff, when they finally finished what they thought would be a 8 foot cube box, young Arron Hendricks exclaimed, "This thing isn't a square at all. It's more like a rhombus!" The name stuck and they painted the structure in a myriad of colors and called it "The Mystery Rhombus Machine". Their business - Smoothie Rhombus - was born.
The first summer of business, they traveled to fairs, luncheons, lake beaches - wherever a crowd gathered in Northwestern Minnesota or Northeastern North Dakota, they were there. The first year was a learning experience for both boys, they made a little money, and they knew they had something good going and wanted to do it again the next year.
After a year of college (Arron at University of Minnesota, Matt at Arizona State), they reunited and brought in a partner, Levi Kraft, to help out with the smoothie stand. That particular summer, they tripled their sales and gained a lot of knowledge and confidence in running a business.
Matt's family had a cabin on Maple Lake outside of Mentor, MN and that's where the three lived during that summer. Lamenting that no place in the area would deliver pizza, the three came up with an idea to open a pizza place in Mentor that would deliver to a surrounding area full of lake and vacation homes in Northwest Minnesota. They found an old building in Mentor and even though financing was a problem, they ended up buying it on contract from the owner. They then bought all the pizza equipment from a Godfather's Pizza restaurant that had gone out of business down in Moorhead, MN, just across the Red River of the North from Fargo. Then they learned how to make pizza.
Actually, Hendricks was the only one who had no experience in making pizza prior to the trio purchasing the pizza equipment - Kraft and Winjum had worked for Domino's Pizza in the past - but he jumped in learning how to make different pizzas with unique toppings. One of the first pizzas they came up with was a pepperoni, green pepper, onion and bacon called the Levitricks, a combination of Levi Kraft's first name and Arron Hendricks' last name. Not long after that, Rhombus House of Pizza opened their doors in late May of 2002.
The three continued to sell their smoothies, not only in their mobile "Rhombus" cart, but in their pizza place. They all worked long hours (each took one day off a week) and employed girlfriends and family to help in the restaurant to help keep costs down. While business at the restaurant was a little lean at first, they quickly built up a local following with their unique pizzas and their high visibility at local events. The first summer of business was a success. But school called again and the three shut the doors of the seasonal pizza place and put the smoothie cart back in the garage for the winter.
After graduating from college (Winjum with a degree in economics and marketing, Kraft in political science and economics from North Dakota State, and Hendricks with a degree in philosophy with a minor in economics) the three went full time into the pizza business in Mentor. They found a small space in a strip mall in their hometown of Thief River Falls and opened Cafe Rhombus in the fall of 2004. In addition to their pizza and smoothies, Cafe Rhombus also served entrees, burgers and sandwiches.
In the spring of 2005, Levi Kraft announced that he was leaving the business to start a family with his wife - previously his high school sweetheart. Hendricks and Winjum carried on running both the House of Rhombus pizza business in Mentor and the Rhombus Cafe in Thief River Falls. The two alternated between the two restaurants working two weeks at a time at each place before trading off.
After a couple of years of tinkering with the Rhombus Cafe model, the two decided to make the next step and looked for a year-round Rhombus Pizza location in the college town of Grand Forks. They found a great little building in downtown Grand Forks and did the build-out and renovations on their own. In 2006, Rhombus Guys Pizza opened for business.
Running three restaurants proved to be too much for the duo and they ended up closing Cafe Rhombus in 2008 to focus their efforts on their growing full-time pizza place in Grand Forks. The two continued to run the House of Rhombus in Mentor as a seasonal business. But they weren't finished expanding - they opened their second Rhombus Guys Pizza in Fargo just before Labor Day in 2011.
The Fargo location is in a long, narrow building that was built back in the early 20th century. There's a big bar on the left side of the building with a row of booths opposite. There are a number of tables up front and in back. Also in back is a game room area, as well as a place to put live music. Artwork from a local Grand Forks artist and beer signs adorn the walls.
We waited at the hostess stand for a couple minutes before a young lady came up to greet us. They were extremely busy in Rhombus Guys that evening and there was only a small two-seater table up toward the front or seating at the bar. We opted for the small table. She dropped off a couple menus and we waited for someone to come over to take our beer order.
The menu at Rhombus Guys is definitely eclectic. In addition to their artisan pizzas, they offer a number of interesting appetizers, fresh salads, sandwiches and wraps. They also have a number of local and regional microbrews to choose from - about two dozen on tap and another three dozen or so available in bottles. We were thirsty. We were hungry. No one was waiting on us.
It was finally after about five minutes when a young waiter - Adam - who was cleaning off a nearby booth looked over and saw us sitting there. He came over and said, "Has anyone waited on you guys yet?" We said no. He said, "Ah, OK. Miscommunication, I guess. I told someone else that you guys were sitting there and they must have misunderstood." Or forgot about us, more likely, as it was very busy in there. Anyway, we ordered up some beers - I got the Alaskan Amber they had on tap.
Rhombus Guys Pizza has nearly 3 dozen different types of pizza on their menu. Of those pizzas, about 8 of them are of a vegetarian variety. The original Levitricks pizza from their Mentor location is now called "Aaron's Little Miracle" on the menu in Fargo. Their "Pacific Northwest" pizza has smoked salmon, feta cheese, black and green olives, chopped tomatoes and garlic infused olive oil. The "Louisiana Saturday Night" has Cajun-spiced marinara sauce, shrimp, andouille sausage, red peppers, pepperocini and caramelized onions. "Jonny Wasabi" featured chicken, teriyaki sauce, onion, green and red peppers, pepperocini, peanuts, and a wasabi drizzle over the top. The "Americana" was basically a bacon cheeseburger pizza with beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, marinara, mozzarella and - of all things - pickles. I got a nice laugh out of some of the pizzas.
My dealer was telling me that he'd always wanted to try the Rockefeller - roasted garlic-infused white cream sauce, shrimp, spinach, onion, cream cheese, tomato and mozzarella, but he said he can't when he and his wife show up with their little boys. He said, "They have to have the basic pizza when we come here. They like the T-Rex." The T-Rex is Rhombus Guys signature pizza - pepperoni, sausage, bacon, Canadian bacon and beef with marinara and mozzarella. The T-Rex has won the "Best Pizza in Grand Forks" for five years running. His wife couldn't dine with us that night and he wanted to get a large to be able to take some extra home with him. I told him that I no problem with that.
When it came time to order, I decided upon the Big Dogz pizza - sausage, pepperoni, black olives and jalapenos with mozzarella and marinara sauce. I got a small one (12") and I got it with the thin crust option. (Gluten free crust is also available.) My dealer did order a Rockefeller with the regular crust. And he said, "We have to get this one appetizer." He ordered the mushroom buttons - bacon/cheese stuffed mushroom caps that are then baked to what the menu described as "ooooey gooooey perfection". Those had caught my eye earlier and I thought the pizza would be enough for me. But I welcomed the fact that we were getting those, as well.
The stuffed mushrooms came to our table about 10 minutes after we ordered them. And they were as good as advertised. The cheese/bacon filling was caramelized on the top and were oozing over the sides of the caps. The cheese ran out of the cap when I cut into one. My dealer showed me the proper way to eat them. "Just put the whole thing in your mouth." Yeah, and hope that the cheese has cooled enough so that the roof of your mouth doesn't receive 2nd degree burns. They were absolutely wonderful.
We still had some mushroom to finish when the first pizza - the Rockefeller - made it to the table. It was huge and the server who brought it out to us had to use a pizza holder to give us room on the table. The outer crust was misshapen and bubbly, the hallmark of a good hand-tossed pizza. The toppings were plentiful and swimming in the white sauce on the pizza. The shredded mozzarella was caramelized on top of the pizza. My dealer said, "Oh, boy! I've been wanting to try this for a long time!"
Adam then brought out the Big Dogz pizza and we did our best in trying to find a place for it on the table. Smaller and with a noticeably lack of thickness around the edges, it too had plentiful toppings, not an over-abundance of black olives or jalapenos - which was fine with me.
I pulled the first piece away from my pizza and took a bite. The crust was thin, not crisp, but not moist or droopy. The overall temperature of the pizza was, well, sort of cold. At least colder than what I would expect a pizza to be when it's brought to the table. I don't know if they let it sit in back for awhile before they brought it out. The cheese was sort of rubbery, sort of like they kept it under a heat lamp too long. I would have expected it to be like this if the pizza where delivered, but not served at a restaurant. It was edible and the toppings were good, but I can't say that I was very impressed with my first Rhombus Guys pizza. Frankly, I've had slices of pizza from a Casey's General Store that were better than the pizza I had at Rhombus Guys.
Nonetheless, I made a significant dent in my pizza. But it was disappointing to me as I'd heard so many good things about Rhombus Guys. I don't know if it was an off night or if the pizza suffered because they were so busy so late in the evening. I finished what I could and let my dealer take home the remaining three pieces with the rest of his Rockefeller pizza which he declared as "Good!"
Given the popularity of Rhombus Guys Pizza, I'm hoping that I was there on an off-night. My pizza was disappointing, but the bacon-cheese stuffed mushrooms were to die for. Service was a little shaky at the start, but it picked up considerably as the night went on. And the place was pretty expensive - our bill for two pizzas, an appetizer and a handful of beers was just under $87 bucks. For that kind of money I would have hoped the pizza would have knocked my socks off. I'm sorry, but it sure didn't.