Heading 10 miles outside of Billings is just far enough to build an appetite. My friend Susan Carlson and I drove east on Highway 312 on this cloudy day to come upon a red roofed building by the road, edging wintering fields of corn.
Once inside RaRa’s Pizzeria and Sandwiches, owner Rhonda Harman welcomes us with a shining smile while directing us to a table by the window. We walk around the large counter anchoring the room, pass seating by a fireplace and several booths with diners.
As I slide into the red upholstered bench seat, I steady myself on the edge of the black dining table as I study the Betty Boop collectibles on the corner wall. Across the room, above the entryway, I spy the shelves of the neatly arranged collection of model cars. My eyes train on the American Graffiti poster over the fireplace as Harman eases over with menus.
The black and white checkered edge of the laminated menu with drawings of 1950s convertibles offer pizzas on one side and appetizers, sandwiches and salads on the other. While Susan orders the grilled chicken salad, I decide on the twelve inch Canadian and kraut pizza.
Rhonda and her husband Monte opened RaRa’s Pizzeria and Sandwiches on Nov. 28, 2013. Harman admits, “I love the food industry.” With hours and experience clocked in from working since she was 17 years old at establishments such as Steiner’s Kit Kat diner in Worden, Town and Country Lounge, Lanes and Cafe, and The Flying J Truck Stop where she did the ordering and inventory, opening a restaurant with her husband was her destiny.
With the previous coffee shop business shutting down, she says, “The business fell into our hands.” In securing a SBA loan, Rhonda wrote a business plan and researched the best location. With her husband and two boys, they surveyed the community as to what was wanted and needed. As for the name of the restaurant, Rhonda used her CB handler name, “RaRa,” from her 8 1/2 years working at the Flying J Truck Stop.
Attending high school in Huntley and Shepherd, she and her husband Monte had known each other since childhood, but didn't start dating until both were in their 20s. “In 1992, I had to have my wisdom teeth pulled out,” she shares, “He brought me a Betty Boop watch.” Ever since, Rhonda has been enamored with this characterization of a 1920s flapper.
“My husband has always been into cars,” Rhonda says. Since 2015, except during the COVID pandemic, on Wednesday nights at 5 p.m. from May 26 to Aug. 29, RaRa’s Pizzeria and Sandwiches gathers classic cars from all around. “For those in the know, you have to get here between 4 to 4:30 p.m. if you want to eat.”
My Canadian and kraut pizza arrives on an aluminum pan with a of couple potholders underneath. This is the ultimate gooey-ooey pizza with Monte’s house-made crust recipe. The sauerkraut melds with the savory pizza sauce and Canadian bacon. Upon first bite, the sauce oozes out as the mozzarella cheese stretches into numerous strands.
Susan’s grilled chicken salad comes mounded with chopped greens, shredded cheese, diced onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and egg. She brought her own dressing and opted out of the croutons, but she shares, “There is a generous serving of grilled chicken in this salad and the greens are fresh.”
Brandy Newman who just moved to the area from Melstone was having lunch with her daughter Chelsea Vohs. They ordered the most popular item on the menu, the bacon chicken sandwich, with a breaded chicken patty. Newman says, “The sandwich is delicious. It’s fresh and hot.”
While sons Nolan and Nick work in the kitchen, husband Monte helps out early in the mornings before he heads to his job at Pryor Creek Golf Course. Kim Duggan, married to Monte’s childhood friend, has been working at RaRa’s for the last three years. Rhonda says, “What I love is when people know someone in the restaurant.”
When you crave pizza and want a taste of nostalgia, head up the road to RaRa’s Pizzeria and Sandwiches.
Stella Fong, author of 'Historic Restaurants of Billings and Billings Food' hosts 'Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region' for Yellowstone Public Radio.
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