For many, Eugene’s isn’t just pizza; it’s the taste of Montana. It’s the familiar flavor of home.
Located in Glasgow, Eugene’s Pizza is operated by brothers Sam and Jeff Knodel, the second generation of Knodels to own the restaurant and the third owners since the pizzeria’s opening in 1962.
One component to Eugene’s enduring success is its dedication to absolute quality. Sam and Jeff create their outstanding, signature flavors by following a very simple philosophy that was handed down by their parents, Arlie and MarySue. The philosophy: Always buy the best! “We’re very picky when it comes to buying all our products,” explains Sam. “The cheese and every other product is the best on the market.”
“Our name is on this; it has to be the best,” adds Jeff.
Along with being homemade, the dough is also hand-tossed – well, hand-thrown really – twelve feet (or higher) for all the customers to see. Though it’s fun to watch, it isn’t just for show; tossing helps to stretch the dough and get most of the flour off. “But really, it’s because we can!” laughs Jeff.
Furthermore, Eugene’s cooks its pizzas on bricks, another time-tested tradition which produces a crispy, yet chewy crust that customers claim they can’t find anywhere else.
Eugene’s unique textures and flavors (along with the pizzeria’s atmosphere) draw in pizza lovers night after night, often filling the restaurant (which seats around 70 guests). On busy weekends and during sporting events, customers have even been known to form a line outside, waiting for a table to open up at this special pizzeria. “We do our best to accommodate everyone,” says Sam. “It’s not a very big place but the flurry of activity is amazing.”
Customers have had first dates and prom dates at Eugene’s. The pizzeria has hosted high school reunions, family reunions, and funeral dinners. There’s even been the occasional wedding proposal. “Pizza is a comfort food and it brings people together,” explains Sam.
Of course, it isn’t just locals who are crazy about Eugene’s. Fans travel long distances for this pizza. In fact, there is so much support from out-of-towners that Eugene’s ships half-cooked pizzas to customers around the nation.
One woman from Oregon wanted Eugene’s to send her ten large pizzas for her 50th birthday. When she was told that the cost of the pizzas and shipping would total $495, she replied, “I don’t care. I’m having Eugene’s Pizza for my birthday!”
Along with everyone else, a number of celebrities have shown support for the small town pizza joint, most notably, actor James Woods.
“Eugene’s has become a destination for people,” says Jeff.
With a smile, Sam adds, “We feel like the rock stars of pizza.”
Nostalgia in Every Bite
Eugene’s Pizza has been creating life-long customers since its beginning. Started by Eugene E. Barger in 1962, it was sold to Arlie and MarySue Knodel in 1967. “It was kind of a spur of the moment buy,” recalls MarySue. No kidding; the couple bought the restaurant after only two days of consideration. “All we knew was to be honest business people, give the public what they wanted, and treat our workers right,” says MarySue. The couple started their first day with only $40 in the cash register but
they quickly found prosperity with good business practices and exceptional food.
Sam and Jeff grew up with an appreciation for how their parents ran the pizzeria and when it came time for their parents to retire in 1992, Sam and Jeff bought Eugene’s, carrying on the family legacy. Other family members have joined in to help the brothers, including Sam’s wife, Beth, their kids, Max and Madison, and Jeff’s daughter, Jessica. Though “retired,” MarySue is in the restaurant every day, doing prep work and running circles around her sons. Even non-related employees have become like family to Sam and Jeff. And the pizzeria is their home.
“Pizza is our life,” says Sam. “There are a lot of memories here. Like working side-by-side with dad.”
In 2010, Arlie Knodel passed away. He has since been memorialized with the “Arlie’s Special,” a Eugene’s pizza topped with some of Arlie’s favorite ingredients – Canadian bacon, pepperoni, and sausage. Sam, Jeff, and MarySue all say it is their favorite pizza.
Two Brothers. Two Hobbies. One Passion.
Like all brothers, Sam and Jeff have their fair share of differences. Sam is clean shaven. Jeff sports a beard. Sam enjoys the early shift. Jeff works late. Both men love working on vehicles, but Sam prefers automobiles while Jeff likes motorcycles.
Sam and Jeff’s differences complement one another and their shared passion for pizza keeps them working together
to improve Eugene’s. While the original recipes have gone unchanged since 1962, Sam and Jeff have expanded the menu to include burgers, sandwiches, chicken, and more, along with a wide variety of gourmet pizzas.
The brothers also make their own barbeque sauce, which they call Sam & Jeff’s “Sweet” Montana BBQ Sauce. They mix and bottle it in-house and distribute it throughout the state (with hopes of growing bigger). Eugene’s sells wearable merchandise as well, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats. The brothers, Arlie, and MarySue can all be seen represented in Eugene’s original artwork.
Best in the State
When the Montana Mint initiated a contest in early 2015 asking Montanans to vote for their favorite pizza in the state, Sam and Jeff knew they’d have support; however, they were humbled to discover just how overwhelming that support was.
Much like March Madness, the Montana Mint’s contest was organized in a bracket system, with 64 pizza restaurants competing from all over Big Sky Country. In a town of less than 4,000 residents, it would have seemed that Eugene’s was at a disadvantage. But for this pizzeria, it was no setback.
As it came time to vote in the contest, Montanans recalled the pizzeria that had left the greatest impression on them – the restaurant that had served them the best pizza they’d ever had. Six rounds and over 10,000 votes later, Eugene’s came out the clear winner, the definitive champion for best pizza in the state
“We’re proud of being called the best pizza in the state,” says Sam, “and we want our customers to share in that honor.”
Sam and Jeff Knodel would like to thank the Montana Mint, Eugene’s dedicated staff, and its loyal followers.
Eugene’s Pizza is open from 4-11pm daily and located at 193 Klein Ave in Glasgow.
For information, call the store at 406-228-8552. Visit eugenespizza.com and samandjeffssweetmontanabbqsauce.com to learn about their great products. And if you’re interested in getting a Eugene’s in your area, give Sam and Jeff a call – they’re ready! (Sam: 406-263-1530, Jeff: 406-263-8114)