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Not your average pizzeria: Ride or Die offers twist on an old staple

The Harley Davidson-themed restaurant officially opened its doors Aug. 11 to the Cloquet community.

Man working in pizza restaurant
Terry Johnson of Superior, owner of Ride or Die Pizzeria, tosses pizza dough on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — Serving up hand-tossed, specialty pizzas in a Harley Davidson-themed setting, the newly opened Ride or Die Pizzeria has been a welcomed addition to the Cloquet restaurant scene since its Aug. 11 debut.

Exterior of  pizza restaurant
Ride or Die Pizzeria, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

While work remains to remodel the space previously utilized by Southgate Family Pizzeria, Ride or Die owner Terry Johnson said the response from the community thus far has been nothing but positive in the month and half since the restaurant opened its doors.

“Cloquet has welcomed us with open arms,” Johnson shared. “I was a little nervous at first. I didn’t know what to expect being a new pizza place … but Cloquet’s been treating us very well. A lot of patience with us when we first opened up. A lot of support from a lot of people and businesses in Cloquet, so that’s a good thing.”

Ride or Die staff member Dustin Cieluch said that while there’s been a learning curve, the restaurant’s patrons have been unanimous in their rave reviews.

“We’re slowly getting there,” Cieluch said. “People are (really) liking our pizzas.”

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The Cloquet location is the second Ride or Die Pizzeria to open in the Twin Ports after starting in Superior in the summer of 2021. The two restaurants share the same recipes as Lee’s Pizza in Lincoln Park, which Johnson has owned since 2019.

Man working in pizza restaurant
Terry Johnson of Superior, owner of Ride or Die Pizzeria, seen at the restaurant on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The transition to the biker-theme for the two Ride or Die locations taps into Johnson's passion for motorcycles, through he clarified that you don't have to love motorcycles to love his restaurant.

"It’s for everybody," Johnson said. "A lot of people like motorcycles. Even if you don’t ride motorcycles, you can still like motorcycles. (At) our Superior location, we get a lot of older people that come in and the old men like to sit and talk about back in the day when they rode motorcycles and it brings them back to their youth."

The idea for the name Ride or Die came from his wife, Dawn, as an ode to the words she said to him before the two eventually got married. The phrase continues to hold a special place in their hearts.

“I said some people (will) get it, some people won’t. But I said we know what it means to us,” Johnson said. “You know we’re not promised tomorrow, so that’s kind of how it came up with that name — kind of have a legacy and something that had a lot of meaning to us.”

Johnson's acquisition of the hidden-gem in Duluth was his first foray into the pizza business with roofing being his trade of choice. Many of Johnson’s employees in the roofing industry have followed him to his Cloquet Ride or Die location.

Man working in pizza restaurant
A finished pizza created by Terry Johnson of Superior, owner of Ride or Die Pizzeria, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I took some of my old roofers that were roofing for me and told them we have a pizza place and said 'You wanna come cook some pizzas?'” Johnson said. “And our main cook in Cloquet actually he roofed for me for about 15 years and now he’s my main cook and running the kitchen in Cloquet. So that’s a bit of a different scene from doing roofing to making pizzas.”

The acquired skill of tossing the dough and meticulously crafting the perfect pie is an art that Johnson said he enjoys the most since entering the pizza business. He has since passed those skills on to his employees.

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“It sounds funny, but it’s a big stress-reliever making the pizzas,” Johnson said. “It used to be riding my Harley, but making pizzas is actually a better stress reliever, because you don’t think of anything else but making that pizza.”

Johnson hopes to train additional full-time cooks as soon as possible to allow the business to expand its operating hours. Currently, the restaurant is open daily from 4-10 p.m.

Man working in pizza restaurant
Terry Johnson of Superior, owner of Ride or Die Pizzeria, places a pizza in the oven at his restaurant on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

New features still in the works

In the weeks since the restaurant’s launch, Johnson has continued to add biker-themed finishing touches to the interior decor, but he said a full remodel of the space is left to come.

Upon completion, the space will include a U-shaped bar for beer sales and TVs for sporting events. Johnson went on to share that an even bigger feature could be added in the near future pending a trial-run at their Superior location.

Logo on shirt in pizza restaurant
The logo of Ride or Die Pizzeria features a drawing of Terry Johnson and his wife Dawn Johnson, both of Superior, seen on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“Probably within the next couple months, we’re doing axe-throwing,” Johnson said. “I’m putting in a couple of lanes over at our store in Superior, and I want to see how that goes. If that goes over well, we’re going to do a couple lanes right there in Cloquet.”

While the remodel will take some time to complete, Johnson is eager for all that the restaurant will offer when it’s all squared away.

“We’ve got a little bit of a variety with what we do, and we just want to make it a fun place for people to come in and enjoy,” Johnson said. “But it’s going to take a little bit of time to get the remodeling and stuff done.”

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Man working in pizza restaurant
Terry Johnson of Superior, owner of Ride or Die Pizzeria, creates a pizza at his restaurant on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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