Folks around Spearfish aren’t surprised that their favorite pizza place is suddenly nationally famous.

In fact, they've known all along that Dough Trader Pizza Company — which was just named “Best Pizza in South Dakota” by USA Today newspaper and Spoon University website — is a special place with fabulous food.

“Whenever any visitor comes to town, and you suggest that they eat at Dough Trader, they’ve already heard about it from someone else,” local patron Carson Williams said. “All the locals have been there."

With pizza places now ubiquitous in almost all American cities, what makes Dough Trader so successful?

Of course, there's the pizza pies themselves, with a sourdough crust, unique topping combinations and oozing cheese aplenty.

But maybe there's a special intangible ingredient that only Dough Trader can provide, and it is summed up in a saying taped to the cash register at the pizzeria at 543 W. Jackson Blvd.

“Love People. Cook Them Tasty Food,” the slogan says.

Of course, the ambience featuring quirky décor with grotto lighting and candles inside, spilling out onto a cozy patio lit by twinkling lights and a fire pit also makes the store stand out.

But more likely, the key to success is the 130-year-old sourdough starter yeast the Dough Trader uses to craft their popular crust at the spot that has served up pies in the Queen City for almost six years, but which has a much deeper pedigree.

“My grandparents started a restaurant at this location in 1960, so it’s in my blood,” she said. “My dad took it over, and has been in the restaurant business for years.”

Bell and her family frequented a restaurant in Phoenix that served a sourdough crust pizza. “I was looking for a way to sustain myself and move back to Spearfish, and I thought, ‘this could be so good’,” she said.

Using equipment from her dad’s inventory, Bell started with “3 pizza ovens and an idea,” and began perfecting her signature sourdough crust.

“Baking is science, and I didn’t know how to bake pizza,” she said. “And, like most people, I thought sourdough is just simply a flavor. Sourdough is tricky, because it’s a live, active thing, changing with the weather, temperature, and barometric pressure. Honestly, we don’t have a set recipe, for this reason. But you still have to know how to get the same result every time; very few people are willing to put up with that process.”

Bell’s crust concoction definitely stars in her pizzas, but her imaginative menu of signature toppings tantalizes the taste buds. For some, their favorite called the Pompeii features spinach, tomatoes, bacon and feta. The Dances with Goats boasts Alfredo sauce, garlic artichoke hearts, grilled chicken, red onions, corn, tomatoes and feta. The aptly named Jeffersonian (“a tribute to the life of Thomas Jefferson, this pizza has it all”) piles sausage, beef, pepperoni, bacon, red onion, black olives, red bell pepper, and mushrooms over marinara sauce.

Nick Caton is chef/operator of Killian’s Food and Drink, next door to Dough Trader. “I appreciate Kristen’s fearless approach to her craft,” Caton said. “She’s kept her pizza consistent, yet with simplicity. She’s tackled big flavors, mixing and matching toppings along with that great crust.”

Bell intends to expand the Dough Trader, possibly adding a food truck, but her main focus is on a movement to return to what she calls “real food.”

“We want to source all our toppings locally, including organically grown vegetables and responsibly and humanely raised meats. The eventual plan is to be completely farm-to-table.”

Along with her 18 employees, Bell adds an emphasis on customer service to her winning combination. “We add love to every pie,” she said. “When you include intention in your food, and make something that’s good for people, that is very rewarding.”

Caton sums up Bell’s success: “Kristen serves what she wants to serve, and doesn’t over-hype that she trades money for food — your ‘dough’ for her dough.”

To reach the restaurant, call 605-642-2175 or go online at doughtrader.com.