Even in her fourth decade behind among the ovens and friers, the smell of Runza still means home to Kathy Densberger. Maybe that's why what started as a part-time job to pay expenses has developed into something else entirely.
The job's never felt like anything but family. She's always returned for more, welcoming strangers with various license plates to the drive-thru window, offering them their first taste of the Nebraska staple through 36 years.
“It's always been a family thing,” she explained. “It doesn't feel like a big corporation. We have a few stores, but it's just an honor feeling like part of the family.”
Last week Densberger was recognized by Runza headquarters and honored with the Runza Rock Star award, which recognizes team members for their loyalty and consistency to go above and beyond. Donald Everett Jr., the president of Runza National, expressed his gratitude.
“Congratulations to Kathy for her remarkable performance,” Everett said. “The store's success is largely based on the superior skills of the management team and their commitment and dedication to quality work.”
Densberger was named general manager when the drive-thru, walk-up only Milford location opened in October. She was tired of jumping around to different Lincoln locations and treasured the opportunity to return to her small-town roots.
She grew up in Garland and graduated from Seward High School. There she started working for Runza, pulling a part-time job at the town's original Runza. Even then she had an attachment to the restaurant.
“It's just something I felt was something I really cared for and enjoyed and I just stuck with it,” she said. “They've treated me well.”
Seward to Lincoln and now Milford, she's always enjoyed meeting new people and explaining to strangers what the Runza experience is like. It's never anything like what they could imagine.
Different cities with their own subcultures have their own pizza staples. Nebraska, for instance, has Valentino's. There's New York-style, Chicago-style deep dish and so on. But who else has the Runza?
Of course she's heard the feedback of how Runza should open a location in various states. Currently Runza only operates in Colorado, Iowa and Kansas outside of Nebraska. Customers have told Densberger that Runza should expand to Florida. She's always answered that it doesn't work that way.
Outside of the signature Runza, Densberger's told strangers of the fresh beef in the hamburgers. Or the hand-made onion rings each day. Those aren't something you get at a fast-food place.
Those are items you could only get at, well, home.