By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Madison Ham
A couple of brothers start a pizza place in a small building and make it big in Wichita. It almost sounds like the origin story of Frank and Dan Carney starting in 1958 what would become the international Pizza Hut chain, but this one takes place a half-century later and has a unique flavor all its own.
“We get that a lot – the comparison to the Carneys,” said Ryan Verbeckmoes who along with his brother Jamie started Ziggy’s in 2012 in a tiny space with less than 10 tables in College Hill’s Clifton Square. It quickly became a favorite Wichita eatery, known for making rectangular-shaped pizzas.
In the five years since, the brothers added more space to their original Clifton Square store and opened a second location this past summer at The Collective in northeast Wichita near the K-96 and 21st Street intersection. Their sister, Kristi, and her husband, Jonathan Fenwick, joined them to open the second store.
A lot of dough is made fresh every day at the two stores to create Ziggy’s 9-by-13-inch pizzas, along with two of their best-selling appetizers – homemade pizza rolls called Ziggy Bites and cheesy garlic bread. Jamie estimates that about 200 pizzas are sold at each location every day between Monday and Wednesday and about 350 at each store every day between Thursday and Saturday. As far as the Ziggy Bites introduced in 2016: “We can’t make them fast enough,” he said. Wings are another best-selling appetizer, and the stores, which have full-service bars and are known for their beer selection, also serve oven-toasted sandwiches.
There’s a lot about Ziggy’s that relates to family, from its owners to its workers and its customers.
The shape of Ziggy’s pizzas, described once in The Wichita Eagle as “curiously rectangular,” is a nod to the homemade pizzas mom Becky Verbeckmoes used to make for her husband and four kids. Jamie and Ryan even started with her pizza dough recipe and “changed things to mass produce it,” said Ryan.
Dad Joe Verbeckmoes, who owns a commercial real estate business, has helped them find the spaces for their stores. Before opening Ziggy’s, Jamie had worked in his dad’s business, as did his sister, Kristi, who worked on marketing, signage and other aspects of Ziggy’s before she and her husband decided to join the brothers in the business full time this year. Their parents are also part-owners.
For the past three years, Ziggy’s has held a charity golf tournament to benefit the Kansas Eye Bank, which is led by the Verbeckmoeses oldest brother, Jason, who serves as the nonprofit’s president and CEO.
Cousin Abby Bachrodt, who worked at the original Ziggy’s, now runs the front-of-the-house staff at the second location. General manager David Weldon and his sister, Barb Burleson, are running the Clifton Square store while the Verbeckmoeses focus their attention on establishing the second store.
“It’s truly a family business,” said Ryan.
They form lasting ties with their employees, they said. Some who worked at Ziggy’s during their high school year come back during college breaks to pick up a few shifts. Among their young employees are kids Jamie used to coach on a sixth-grade basketball team. It’s not unusual for families of employees, as well as Verbeckmoes relatives, to frequent the restaurant.
The four Verbeckmoes siblings grew up in a close-knit, competitive family, with about 15 months separating each successive kid.
“We all were so close and we still are,” noted Ryan. “We still like to go do things together. We go to Shocker games and play on a softball team together.”
As the two youngest siblings, Ryan and Jamie would talk about running a business together. They went off to college – Ryan to Wichita State and Jamie to Kansas State University – and got into other careers. Jamie worked for his dad, while Ryan worked with his uncle, who was director of operations for Pizza Huts in Oklahoma. Their grandfather, Herm Bachrodt, was one of the early franchisees of Pizza Huts in Wichita.
Ryan returned to Wichita little more than six years ago and the sports-loving brothers went on a trip to Chicago to take in a Cubs game and enjoy some Chicago-style pizza.
“But we had our own vision of pizza,” Ryan said.
With Jamie’s background in business and Ryan’s in food service, they brought that vision to reality, starting with just eight tables in what had been a former restaurant space in Clifton Square at 3700 E. Douglas. The original location nearly doubled its seating capacity with an expansion in 2014.
They started their fifth year in business with the announcement that they’d expand eastward, with a second store. Located at 12115 E. 21st St. N., the east store is 3,000 square feet. While both stores have patio seating and similar indoor seating capacity, the larger footprint at the second location provides a more open concept feel. Rumors have circulated for some time about an eventual Riverside location.
“We’re always discussing future plans,” said Jamie, about any further expansion, “but it took five-and-a-half years to open a second store.”
Ziggy’s is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays.