When the Simek brothers, owners of the Tombstone Tap in Medford, Wisconsin,
started making pizzas in 1962, they were simply looking for a gimmick
to pull customers into their tavern located across from the cemetery.
That "gimmick" has evolved into the nation's second largest frozen pizza
The pizzas made in the tavern's 6-foot by 6-foot kitchen were
such a hit that in 1966 the brothers took to the road in a freezer
truck and sold their product to other area taverns.
The next step was to find a bigger kitchen to meet the company's
growing customer base, and Medford provided an eight-acre site in
the city's industrial park where Tombstone's operations continue
to expand and employ nearly 600 people today.
By 1984 Tombstone was one of the three largest frozen pizza manufacturers
in the country, with sales in excess of $100 million and an additional
pizza plant in Sussex, outside Milwaukee.
About this time the Simeks arrived at a turning point: either
they had to invest heavily to support further growth or turn the
company over to someone else. Enter Kraft Inc., which bought the
company in 1986.
While the product line has grown considerably since those early
days at the Tombstone Tap, Kraft General Foods is committed to the
same standards the Simek family established, says Cathy Pernu, senior
communications associate for Tombstone Pizza at company headquarters
in suburban Chicago.
Tombstone's products are distributed much the same way they were
under the Simeks' ownership: shipped by the company's own trucks
and trailers to regional warehouse facilities; delivered direct
to the retailer by Tombstone's route sales representatives via freezer
The company's market takes in about 80 percent of the United States,
and the product line includes meat snacks and 40 different pizzas
that use at least 20 million pounds of Wisconsin cheese annually.
Tombstone's success has been a boon for Medford, a town of 4,200
in north central Wisconsin about 75 miles northeast of Eau Claire.
While not its largest employer, Tombstone has provided jobs for
more than 20 years for residents of Medford and other communities
in a 50-mile radius. "The company has been and continues to be a
good corporate friend to the community," says Sue Emmerich, executive
director of the Medford Chamber of Commerce. And the company's status
has brought national recognition to Medford, she adds. When the
town's work force is totaled, "We have as many jobs in Medford as
people living here," Emmerich says.
And that growth will likely continue. Tombstone installed two
blast freezers in late 1991 and an additional production line in
1992, which resulted in the hiring of about 70 new employees since