His name is Jason Ransom, and his official title is company president, but you can call him “the guy on the box.”
“On my business card, under my name, it says ‘The guy on the box,’” he says. “When I used to go give out samples in grocery stores, my picture was on the box and people would say, ‘Wait, are you the guy on the box?’ Some people would come back with a Sharpie and be like, ‘Can you sign my box?’”
That was a long time ago, when Ransom was still growing his The Dish frozen pizza empire, which grew out of his restaurant of the same name in Liberty, off Highway 291. For seventeen years, Ransom and his wife ran that restaurant, which specialized in the Chicago-style deep-dish pies that are now his top seller.
“I decided, why not package this and take it to the local Hy-Vee and see if they’ll give us some shelf space?” he says.
Hy-Vee in Liberty was The Dish’s only account for two years. “Some other Hy-Vees started calling—’Why don’t you bring it to Parkville, why don’t you bring it to Gladstone?’” he says.
So he did—in a Ford Windstar.
“I’d pull up to the back of these stores, I’d stick the boxes in a cart, and I’d roll up and deliver them to the cases and print up an invoice,” he says.
The legality of selling frozen foods that have not been USDA-inspected and were transported in a minivan without refrigeration is, let’s say, open to debate. As The Dish grew, Ransom decided to go fully legit. He turned his banquet room into a USDA-approved production facility and bought a freezer truck.
The Dish’s pies are now made at an eight thousand-square-foot production facility in North Kansas City and available from Cheyenne to Albuquerque, in ten states across the west.
The frozen pizza market is highly competitive and dominated by major players. “It’s just an illusion of choice because there are basically three of four companies that have all those brands,” he says. “Nestle has five brands. You’re buying a pizza you think is unique and it’s just Nestle.”
Which brings up one of the other things you may notice about The Dish’s pies. It’s not your imagination; they are always “on sale.”
“I’m swimming in an ocean of sharks,” Ransom says. “They’re never not on sale, so I’ve got to compete with their tactics. We have been trained as customers to be responsive to sales tags.”
The Dish’s big breakthrough in sales came from advice passed on by a local chef, who mentioned that the original forty-minute bake time on the frozen pies was too long for most consumers who “don’t have any patience.” Instead, Ransom’s recipe now advises you to microwave the pie for a few minutes while the oven heats up.
“You microwave from frozen and then bake it off and it’s fifteen minutes,” he says. “That was huge. We sell a lot more now.”