When Anoka County's only township stirs to life each morning, its waking is often marked by a bright sound dinging from inside Linwood Country Store & Pizza — the only place in town to grab food.
Each time the door swings open, something akin to a doorbell's "ding dong" sounds throughout the store. Once the store opens at 6 a.m., residents swing by to get gas, grab coffee or indulge in a slice of fresh breakfast pizza.
It's a business that has been around in one form or another for decades. In 2012, Rich Berget Jr., 55, took over the store with his wife of 32 years, Donna Berget. But several months ago, it looked as if the familiar dinging from Linwood Township's only convenience store and restaurant would fall silent.
In January, the Bergets announced that the business would be closing, which dealt a body blow to the township, residents say.
"It's been very emotional for the town," said Denise Seaver, a store employee. "That's how much the community loves this place — and Rich and Donna."
"Half the town was praying for me," said Rich Berget, who lives in Oakdale. "The town and the people have really taken me in."
A tenant-landlord dispute from several months back left the Bergets facing possible eviction, but they recently worked out an agreement to buy the business. The purchase agreement is now being finalized, Rich Berget said.
When he took over the store, Berget came with little experience making pizza or running a convenience store but said he knew he wanted to make customers happy.
Donna Berget keeps the books for the store, all while juggling a full-time job as an office manager. She said she's proud of what the business has become.
"Rich has really made it a family place," she said. "It's so him. He's such a people person."
Between 350 and 450 customers pop in every day. Restaurant orders over $15 come with the free delivery of any store items. The pizza parlor often provides space for family gatherings and parties. And the jumbo happy-chef-turned-pizza-boy figure out front has become a key landmark in this township of about 5,300 people.
Kristen Nixon stops by Linwood Country Store & Pizza as part of her morning routine. Her kids don't mind. The pizza boy figure, they say, also acts as a PokeStop in the world of Pokémon Go, a popular mobile game that David, 11, and Ruth, 7, often play with their mom.
When they thought the store was closing, Nixon and her family were at a loss, she said. "We all cried," Nixon said.
For now, Rich and Donna Berget say they plan to stay put. This summer, they also intend to give Linwood's pizza boy landmark a fresh coat of paint.
"What's amazing is the outpouring of support over the last few months," Rich Berget said. "It shows people care that you're here."
Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751