What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
Sometimes it shows back up in the most unusual places. Like Gassville, Arkansas.
The story started when a guy who came to Las Vegas to work on a race car and met a realtor ready to give him a reason to settle down. Before you know it, they were honeymooning on the White River and dreaming of a life with wide-open views and time for fishing.
For years, Rick and Jane Mines visited the area whenever they could, coming primarily for the fishing. So when they began to talk retirement, it was natural to make it permanent. Gassville stuck, but retirement didn’t.
As Rick tells it, he “was retired for about 20 minutes” before he became intrigued with the pizza operation at Nima’s—a name taken from the original owners, New York brothers Nicholas and Mauro.
“The owner told me I should buy it,” recounts Rick. “I offered to look at the financials and he said, ‘There are none.’ So, I offered to come sit in the corner for six weeks. I told him, ‘If everything you tell me matches, then we’ll talk.” He smiled and added, “It didn’t take much to figure out this could do a lot more.”
The next step was recruiting his wife, Jane, into the idea. She loved to bake, and he convinced her that pizzas weren’t too far off from her love of pastry.
Soon, Gassville residents—along with tourists who came to enjoy such nearby tourism hotspots as Eureka Springs—were enjoying the passion that the Mines put into their post-retirement careers.
But wait, it gets better. When you ask Rick how they began competing in the International Pizza Challenge, he is quick to say, “By accident!” He adds, “There were some people down here fishing a few years ago. Like a lot of others, they came in for pizza. About six weeks later, they called us and said, ‘We think you are good enough; we’d like you to enter the competition in Las Vegas.’”
Rick says he immediately thought, “free trip to Vegas” and said, “Sure,” only to find out that the expense of the competition was all on him—but also that it was an invitation-only event, and that perhaps he shouldn’t take the invitation lightly.
So, it was back to Vegas for Rick and Jane.
They entered the International Pizza Challenge, and in 2010 walked away with the title of “USA Best Traditional Pizza.” They went on to win second place in the world with that pizza—losing by only four points to a chef from Italy.
On the menu at Nima’s today are the winning pizzas from three years of competition:
- The 2008 competition, where they earned Runner Up status for a pizza with a blend of four cheeses, fresh tomatoes, and Italian herbs;
- The 2009 competition, where they earned Runner Up status with a sausage pizza that includes marinated tomato rings stuffed with a blend of five Italian cheeses; plus,
- The 2010 winner—described as “a 50/50 blend of mozzarella and provolone cheese topped with thinly sliced meatballs, then covered in a lattice work of fire-roasted sweet red peppers with a blend of five Italian cheeses placed into the middle of each lattice work square to melt into a gooey, mouth watering sensational tasting pizza!” Jane, who designed the pizza, calls it, “A fun pie with lots of whimsy.” But be warned—a day’s notice is required in order to get this pizza, so call ahead.
Soon to come are the more recent pizzas, which took regional honors. In fact, Rick says, “Jane was first person in the five year history of the competition in 2011 to win a back-to-back regional title.” He says they are simply waiting for delivery of their new pizza oven (coming in late June 2012) in order to be able to make those specialty pizzas.
Part of their success is undoubtedly the fresh ingredients used—right down to the peppers and tomatoes grown in their own garden and the homemade meatballs. They hand select their ingredients and don’t skimp on the special touches, such as using flavored olive oils to enhance some of their dough. Those include a French Walnut Oil and another that is a distinctive Tuscan Herb, which they obtain from the Devo Olive Oil store in Branson, Missouri, another nearby tourist area.
The Mines are willing to share their knowledge and experience with other pizza operators, and have encouraged others to enter. Rick proudly says that one young person they recommended won her regional competition this year. “We have opportunities for operators to share with each other at the competition,” he says. “It’s a good place to ask each other questions and learn.”
The winning record also gives them bragging rights that have helped their business. A television story run by KYTV brought the crowds. As Rick says, “They ran a four-minute segment, and it was Katy bar the door! People were standing in line and sharing pizza as it came out.” He adds, “It’s been a really neat journey.”
The pizza place also features a bakery case with Italian desserts, many of them made by Jane. “What she’s done is taken her love of pastry art and moved it to pizza,” says Rick. Jane simply adds, “I love to make people happy with our food. We put a lot of love into it. When you spend these hours it’s got to be love!”
Rick adds, “This is what we do. We love every minute of the day.”
So, the Vegas secrecy is broken. After all, some things are just too good not to tell.
Also see our Editor’s commentary, Pizza with Heart and Soul.