ORANGE CITY—Ryan Achterhoff was accepting an award for his work championing Iowa restaurants when Gov. Kim Reynolds shared new restrictions on dining in her livestreamed address Nov. 16.
The pivot from celebration to dismay is one Achterhoff, who is chief administrative officer at the Orange City-based franchise Pizza Ranch, is familiar with after a year riddled with hardships for the restaurant industry.
“It was a bit surreal that we were recognizing some people in our industry in Iowa at the same time that things were kind of being shut down,” Achterhoff said.
Achterhoff had just been named recipient of the 2020 Industry Champion award from the Iowa Restaurant Association in recognition of his efforts to help Pizza Ranch and other Iowa restaurants survive the last nine months. After the ceremony was over, he turned to his colleagues and got to work planning how they could rise to this latest challenge.
That “what’s next” attitude is part of how Achterhoff earned the award. Since March, he’s been advocating for Iowa restaurants, leading outreach efforts to help business owners, not just Pizza Ranches, get help and survive.
Achterhoff is a board member of the state and national Restaurant Association. Following business shutdowns in March, he led a series of webinars hosted by the Iowa Restaurant Association, teaching restaurant owners across the state how to access loans, grants and other financial assistance to weather pandemic-related loss of business.
“It’s an ongoing struggle and we’re kind of still in the middle of it, but we’re grateful that there’s at least some help to help us get through this,” Achterhoff said.
Resources ranging from Paycheck Protection Program loans to Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grants have been a vital part of what’s kept the lights on in many restaurants. The webinars have helped businesses across the state, but they originated from work Achterhoff already was doing to help Pizza Ranch franchisees spread across 14 states that were dealing with many different restrictions.
“It spilled over from helping us here to helping the whole industry,” he said. “It’s interesting when you’re under this much pressure as an industry how you come together.
"Even though you compete every day, when you’re under pressure you want to help each other too. Our communities need variety and different restaurants available. We know that we’re better when we have competition.”
Achterhoff also has been a voice for Iowa restaurants in Legislature where he’s met with state and federal representatives to share concerns from the restaurant industry as the pandemic continues.
“They really did a good job of listening to us and realizing ‘the government shut you guys down,’” Achterhoff said. “We’re the second largest private industry in the United States, second largest employer. They knew what happened with the imposed closures was going to be devastating. That’s why we were so closely engaged with officials as they were closing us down.”
His efforts, along with those of Pizza Ranch owners and employees, have helped Pizza Ranch weather the brunt of restrictions. Only two of the 216 locations have closed and Achterhoff said there are hopes to reopen those after the pandemic.
“We certainly didn’t think we’d still be dealing with this after eight or nine months so it’s been challenging but we feel very fortunate to even be at that level,” he said. “If we have another round of closures, we’re maybe going to need some help as an industry again.”
Achterhoff hasn’t always been in the restaurant industry. He found his way to Pizza Ranch after 19 years in marketing and banking and said it’s one of the best decisions of his life.
He’s approaching his 19-year anniversary at Pizza Ranch and has been a franchisee for 11 years, with four locations in Minnesota and one in Norfolk, NE.
“I’m experiencing it personally. The combination of all of that has really put me in a position to be of assistance to folks and to help them through the financial trials of what COVID-19 did to us,” Achterhoff said. “It’s just made me a better consultant for our locations and for our franchisees by having skin in the game.”
Despite his efforts this year, Achterhoff said he was surprised to hear he had been selected for the award and said he’s just one of many in the restaurant industry who have worked their hardest throughout the year.
“It’s very humbling because you know the purpose for being recognized is something that none of us ever wanted to happen,” Achterhoff said. “To be in the middle of a pandemic and needing someone to be an advocate for the industry, none of us would have ever wanted or chosen this trial that we’re in.”