According to The Greathouse of Pizza (GHOP) owner Trent Groothuis, a picture is worth a thousand words, and pictures of pizza are worth more than 17,000 Facebook followers. For the restaurant’s single location in Casey, Ill., a town of 2,700, he says that’s “pretty incredible.”
Although Trent opened the business in 2008, his background in the food industry goes back much further. “I have always worked in the restaurant business,” he says. “I worked my way up from dishwasher to manager to an owner.”
His journey began at Richards Farm Restaurant, also in Casey, as a dishwasher and occasional fry cook while in high school. Then, while attending Lake Land College in Mattoon, he worked as a prep worker and cook at Wrangler Roast Beef in Charleston.
He went on to pursue a degree in physical education at Eastern Illinois University. “While attending EIU, I worked at Pagliai’s Pizza as a pizza maker, and later became an assistant manager,” Trent says. He worked there for 7 years and says his favorite aspect of the restaurant business is creating new foods.
After several interviews for high school P.E. teachers, nothing panned out. Then in 2008, his parents told him the local pizza joint from his hometown was shutting down and for sale.
“I had always enjoyed making pizzas and everything about the pizza industry, so I went for it and here we are now,” he laughs. “I graduated with a degree in physical education, so I did what everyone does who graduates with that degree … I opened a pizzeria!”
The casual “mom-and-pop” pizza joint’s name is based on Trent’s last name—Groothuis. “Groothuis means big or large house in Dutch, so my family somewhere down the line changed the American pronunciation to Greathouse,” he says.
The pizzeria offers both carry-out and delivery, which equates to about 35 percent of business, according to Trent. They recently expanded their delivery radius to 10 miles, including the town of Martinsville.
Favorite items on the menu include their thin crust and homemade Italian sausage. “Our deep-dish pizza, Chicago specialty items and pizzas of the month bring people in from other towns and cities,” Trent says. “We have become a destination. Probably 75 percent of our business is from out-of-town people. Our pizza of the month is popular because we do off-the-wall pizzas with crazy combinations. We do a lot of pizzas that other pizzerias in the area don’t do.” He says the most popular has been the General Rangoon’s Special, a crab rangoon and General Tso’s chicken pizza.
GHOP’s pizza pot pies, a seasonal item available in the winter, bring in a lot of people. “People go crazy over them. They are a pot pie filled with a special meat sauce, mushrooms, pepperoni and tons of Wisconsin brick cheese,” he describes. “These are popular in the Chicago area, so we started doing our version.”
Trent’s creativity doesn’t end with the menu. GHOP is known for pizza art, which he started posting on Facebook in 2013. “It is just a thing I started doing when I got bored,” he says. “I would come in and make pizzas that looked like sports logos or other types of logos.”
After receiving a huge response, he continued posting his creations. The St. Louis Post Dispatch shared one of his posts—a St. Louis Cardinals logo pizza. That led to a story in PMQ Pizza Magazine and a segment on Terre Haute’s WTWO-TV. A subsequent article from the Mattoon Journal Gazette & Times-Courier was picked up by the Associated Press, which Trent says was shared by hundreds of newspapers in the U.S.—one being the Washington Post.
“Pizza art has helped with social media,” he says. “It’s content that people like to see. It catches their eye, and people share it or like it. Sharing content is the name of the game; it gets many people to like your social media pages.
“We have a lot of regulars who come several times a month from Terre Haute, Charleston, Mattoon, Robinson and Effingham, as well as all the small towns around. We have some from the Champaign-Urbana area, Springfield, the Indianapolis area and even Evansville, Indiana!”
After nearly 12 years in business, he recalls heartwarming moments. They’ve assisted with several “promposals” by making pizza in the shape of a heart with “Prom?” written in pepperoni. Once, they wrote the words “Big Brother” for a family to surprise their son with a new baby.
“We are getting to the point where I have been hearing ‘we had our first date here,’ ‘I met my significant other here,’ and ‘we have our anniversary dinner here every year’—those are pretty neat things to hear from customers,” Trent says.
In the face of the pandemic, GHOP is open for carry-out, curbside pickup and delivery. So far, they have been fortunate and stayed busy with a couple of small changes.
“We started making take-and-bake kits, such as Italian beef, baked pasta and frozen pizzas. The frozen pizzas have really taken off!” They also offer take-home pizza kits to make pizza at home. Kits include a doughball, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, sausage and pepperoni. “It gives families a fun activity to do at home,” he says.
As for the future of GHOP, Trent says they will keep doing what they are doing. He also mentions a possible expansion to Terre Haute down the line. He adds, “We just want to give a big thank you to all our customers for their support. Without them, we wouldn’t be here!”
- 2011 Casey Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year (community involvement/service)
- 2015 Jalapeno Popper Pizza named as a Top Recipe in the Industry by PMQ Magazine
- 2016 Top 10 Deep Dish by Onlyinyourstate.com
- 2018 Illinois Country Living magazine Central Region Best Pizza
- 2019 Finals of WTHI-TV Terre Haute Final Fork
- 2019 #4 Best Chicago Style Pizza, USA TODAY Top 10