Newcomers to the area might be excused for wondering why all that traffic is heading to the Dodge County hamlet of Berne on Wednesday nights during the summer.
But there are plenty of regulars who could answer that question.
“We have a huge contingent of people who come every single week,” says Angela Organ, who coordinates the Wednesday night wood-fired pizza and live music events at Zwingli United Church of Christ in Berne.
In fact, so many come every week that Organ’s team has had to embark on efforts to provide faster service and more space for parking and dining. “We went to a second oven and two stations last year,” Organ says. “Our wait times were smaller in 2015 than in 2014, with 60 to 70 more pies per night.”
On average, about 450 pizzas are sold each night at the event. Seven varieties are offered each week, with a rotating specialty pizza available. About 50 volunteers from area churches, West Concord Fire & Rescue and Pine Island AAA Foundation are involved each week.
And then there’s the live music: Warm-up bands start at 5:30, with headliners playing from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., rain or shine.
“Last summer, Six Mile Grove played in steady rain and we sold 500 pizzas.” Organ says. “It can be as much about the band as the pizza.”
Or it could be about enjoying a summer evening. “People like to be outside,” says Organ.
Whatever the draw, the church’s wood-fired pizza nights have become a major mid-week attraction since they started five years ago.
“It’s funny to actually think back to the first night, and we didn’t know if we should make pizza for 30 people, or if anyone would pull into the drive,” Organ says.
That’s when the pizza nights replaced Berne’s Swiss Fest, which had been held in early August for years. The pizza nights annually feature a tribute to Swissfest, this year on Aug. 3. All funds raised through the pizza nights support the church and nonprofit organizations in the region.
If you go
What: Berne wood-fired pizza nights
When: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Wednesday from June 1 through Aug. 31
Where: Zwingli United Church of Christ, 23148 Dodge County Road 24, West Concord
Admission: Free; pizzas cost $18 to $22.