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One Hot Pizza

'Larabell' a highlight of RAGBRAI stop

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 11:56 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:14 p.m. CST
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(Kate Malott/Daily News)
The chefs at Dang Brother Pizza of San Diego, Calif., were in Monroe for the mid-day stop during Day 4 of RAGBRAI. They made pizzas from a wood-fired pizza oven converted from a firetruck. The firetruck they used, however, was a retired unit previously used by the Newton Fire Department.
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(Kate Malott/Daily News)
The cheerleaders at PCM High School took part in the festivities at Monroe’s mid-day RAGBRAI stop Wednesday, selling food on the downtown square as a fund-raiser for new uniforms. The PCM Class of 2015 also used the rare opporunity to raise funds for next spring’s prom.
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(Matthew Nosco & Kate Malott/Daily News)
The PCM Class of 2015 sold sweet corn and bottled water to raise funds for next spring’s prom.
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(Matthew Nosco & Kate Malott/Daily News)
Monroe mayor Brian Briles greeted visitors to the community as he handed out tubes of lip balm. More than 10,000 bicyclists converged on Monroe on Wednesday morning.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
Riders leave town headed south on Highway 14.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
RAGBRAI riders relax on the Monroe square after riding most of the Day 4 leg.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
Michael Nikula of Madison, Wisc. enjoys riding RAGBRAI, even if he does it alone. “It’s a lot of fun being around a lot of like-minded people. All different walks, ages, and all different ability levels too. I plan on doing it for the next 30 years.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
Father and son, Chris and Logan Peters participate in the water fight competitions held by the Monroe Fire Department. Along with Chris’ mom, they have been riding together for 9 years.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
A couple rest together in the grass on the square.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
Floral shop owner Terri Cloke defied her normal business model, enlisting friends and family to take advantage of the day’s opportunity.
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(Kate Malott & Matt Nosco/Daily News)
The group prepared hundreds of pulled pork and grilled cheese sandwiches for famished riders who were two-thirds of their way through the day’s venture.

There aren’t very many occasions when you’ll find tourists from Switzerland, Columbia, and anywhere else around the world in Monroe.

That’s one part of what makes this year’s RAGBRAI stop-through such a great opportunity for the town of less than 2,000 residents according to City Administrator Matt Mardesen.

The Register’s Annual Great Ride Across Iowa is an annual event on its 41st year, which takes riders from across the country and the world on a tour through the state. This year’s route, which passes through Monroe, is the second shortest in the ride’s history coming in at 406.6 miles according to a RAGBRAI release.

Dang Brother Pizza, one of the vendors on the stop, is a mobile wood-fire pizza business from San Diego, Calif. It is mainly located in the southern California area, but also travel to festivals, fairs and unique events such as RAGBRAI.

Their business is about as unique as RAGBRAI. It involves an old fire truck that has a built in wood-burning oven in the back. In fact, the fire truck is one of Newton’s own.

The 1974 American La France yellow firetruck use to belong to the Newton Fire Department.

“This truck is originally from Newton,” said Kevin Spenla, co-owner of Dang Brother. “I found it on eBay and won the auction. It cost us $3,200. Not a bad deal.”

Indeed, it was one of the engines used by the Newton Fire Department, retired firefighter Mark Vickroy said.

“That used to be old engine No. 49. That was an old grass truck. It was used for grass fires, espcially in the spring. That was a great truck. I remember driving it. I remember riding it in,” Vickroy said.

“A truck like that would be illegal now because of the inclosed passenger seat. It’s one of the old trucks.”

Splenda’s father is from Woodward and aftering finding the truck on eBay, he thought a trip back to Iowa would be the perfect occassion to show it. Spenla and his crew had to gut the water tank and build in the wood-fire oven.

“Other than that it’s in the same condition,” Splenda said. The water tank was made of brass and they made $1,000 off of it.

“To have come full circle, to go from Newton, Iowa and clear out to the west coast and then back to Iowa for RAGBRAI and have it end up 16 miles from where it originated, that’s pretty neat,” said Vickroy.

Each day features a number of “pass-through” towns like Monroe, as well as “host” towns like Des Moines and Knoxville.  This will be the first time the event has passed through Monroe in 21 years, since the ride in 1992. The event is limited to 10,000 riders, but unofficial riders well those ranks each day.

“The whole community has been working together on this since we first found out in February,” Mardesen said. “We formed several committees, broke the work into chunk and have spent a lot of Sunday nights planning for the event … This last week, a lot of us worked over 60 hours on this.”

Work that is going to pay off for the community and its local economy as 33 official vendors, 13 of them local businesses or organizations, set up on the streets of Monroe to accommodate the cyclists.

Terri Cloke, owner Flowers and More with TLC in Monroe, brought in some family members and adapted her business model for the event. Rather than selling flowers and decorations, the business churned out pulled-pork and grilled-cheese sandwiches to the tune of $5 apiece. Their food, as well as low-cost beverages, will hopefully bring in a nice revenue according to Cloke.

“This is great for the local businesses and community groups like churches … We get to showcase what Monroe has to offer,” Cloke said.

Her regular business, the floral side of the operation, brought in at least one customer who sent flowers back home to his wife. A nice apology for being gone the whole week, one of the employees joked.

The Prairie City-Monroe Class of 2015 found the RAGBRAI ride-through to be a great opportunity to raise money for their class and next year’s annual prom dance. The high school students and their parents worked together to shack, cook, and serve the corn. They sold an ear of corn was sold for $2 and a bottle of water for $1.

“The main thing we’re doing here is raising money for the school’s prom and this was perfect timing. They had to raise the money at some point this year, and it’s great that the kids came up with this idea,” Jen Timmins of Monroe said.

The junior class officers and other classmates came up with the idea with help from faculty. The corn comes from the farms of Roger Back in Runnels and Paul DeJoug in Pella and the parents and students picked it up the Wednesday morning so that it would be fresh.

Bicyclist Gina Sundermann of West Des Moines thought the corn was perfect.

“This is fabulous. It’s not too early or not too late. My dad would be proud. My husband calls me the corn queen because I know my corn.”

The Mustang juniors weren’t the only students taking advantage of the rare event and opportunity, the Prairie City-Monroe high school cheerleaders were also selling food on the square to raise money. The squad’s coach, Tammy Wickett of Monroe, worked along side the girls to help them sell walking tacos.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to get money for new uniforms and raise money to go to state competition,”

“It’s been a lot of fun cheering for people, meeting them, and seeing all these different kinds of people. They’re a lot of fun,” said junior cheerleader, Taylor Phifer.

The streets were lined with people and their bikes, looking for food and beverages. The square, which started out looking like a lush, green park, was soon full of people and bikes. There wasn’t room to walk amongst all the equipment and bicyclist on the ground. Some laid in the grass to enjoy some quiet, some visited with friends, but either way the consensus was that the weather could not have been any better than it was at that time in Monroe.

“This is what we dream about right here. Monroe has got it made,” said a 25 year RAGBRAI veteran, Johann Onnen of Omaha. He said he looks forward to riding across Iowa each year and wouldn’t miss it.

“It’s a rite of summer. It gives you a reason to train, a reason to bike.”

Travis Weisner, a rider from Mesa, Ariz., said that one of the things that has been bringing him back to the ride for the last 13 years is the chance to see what the small communities have to offer.

“They have a lot of the same things, but each is a little different … We love getting to meet all the different people on this ride,” Weisner said.

Brian Briles, the mayor of Monroe, hopes that the stop-over will be a little more than just that for some of the riders.

“We want to attract their attention and bring people back,” Briles said. “It’s great to showcase and market Monroe … it could also be a great chance for them to see what we have if they’re thinking about moving, or maybe to visit again,” Briles said.

Briles explained that he didn’t expect the city to profit off of the event, due to its high number of investments, but the effect on local businesses and organizations would make it worthwhile.

While the biggest economic impacts of RAGBRAI are felt at the overnight stops, the “pass-through” towns certainly realize the economic benefits as well, as evidenced by the high-volume in inventory that local bars had stocked up on.

“We’ve prepared somewhere between 50 to 100 gallons of bloody mary’s,” said Stacy Metzger-Moore, bartender at Mike’s Lodge.

Each bloody mary will sell for a premium of $4, generating more business in an afternoon than the establishment might see in a month; Business that the town is grateful to have after months of rigorous planning and one long day of execution.

As the morning went on, the town got busier with more riders were coming in from the Des Moines area. It was their last stop before the next overnight town, which encouraged many to take their time staying in Monroe.

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