When hungry pizza eaters walk, run or sometimes stagger into Whitewater’s Toppers Pizza, they also move past Toppers Pizza’s World Headquarters- where people from all over the country have come through to learn how they can help the company grow.
Toppers’ Whitewater roots recently grew wider after the company announced two deals that would add 13 locations in Colorado and Wyoming and 22 locations throughout Virginia and Maryland. The company now has locations in 13 states and in the last three years, has doubled in size.
In addition to these deals, the company has around 65 stores under contract to open in the next four years, Toppers President and Founder and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumnus Scott Gittrich said.
As Toppers expands into new states, the emphasis on small-town Wisconsin roots remains, and while those roots benefit franchisees in their business endeavors within the company, the franchisees also benefit the Whitewater community as people who previously never have been to, or even heard of Whitewater, visit the town as they train to open their own stores.
The influence of pizza
For most people, to tell you the truth, it’s the first time they’ve ever been in Whitewater and we always say, welcome to Toppers Pizza, welcome to Whitewater, Gittrich said.
When franchisees sign on to work with Toppers, they come to Whitewater for a matter of weeks prior to the opening of their stores. In addition to franchisees, vendors and managers also come to headquarters to train or take care of business.
Gittrich says bringing so many people into Whitewater helps the community’s economy and puts Whitewater on the map.
Toppers attracts permanent community members as well. Gittrich says that they have helped grow the population a bit from recruiting people, and sometimes their families, to come work at Toppers’ Headquarters and live in Whitewater. He is currently working on bringing a potential employee and his family from Denver to move to the company’s small-town Wisconsin community.
We own that connection, we like that connection and being a Wisconsin company, it’s who we are, it’s who we say we are, we think it also fits our brand, Gittrich said. We used to think about, is it weird that these business people fly into Milwaukee and drive through these corn fields for this little bitty town’ but hey, that’s who we are and it’s awesome.
Bringing people in
In order to continue expanding, the company seeks out true restaurant people to own franchises. The corporate team in Whitewater works alongside people who already understand the restaurant business and the communities they are expanding in, to bring the Toppers brand and values effectively into new areas.
Franchisee Shane Quail opened Toppers’ 76th store in Brookings, South Dakota this summer, but before the doors could open, he first had to spend training time in Whitewater, a town that reminded him a lot of Brookings, as well as his hometown in Minnesota.
Whitewater was very comfortable, very homey, Quail said. I think it’s neat and unique that Scott planted his roots there and he stayed true to it by keeping the corporation’s headquarters there in little ol’ Whitewater.
Quail is involved in a six-store contract in South Dakota. The first three of those stores opened in Brookings and Sioux Falls in a matter of nine months.
One thing led to another and we ended up in Whitewater meeting all the guys, Quail said. I visited a few stores, got kind of a feel of what Toppers is all about, and we just kinda fell in love with it. Soon enough we signed on for a six store deal and kinda hit the ground running.
Many of the company’s franchisees are graduates of UW-W. Gittrich believes that in 20 years, there will be more franchisees from Whitewater than from anywhere in the country.
We think that UW- Whitewater, the whole UW System, students are great franchise candidates, Gittrich said. Maybe not right now, but five or ten years from now, they end up circling back around.
Toppers also keeps their Wisconsin roots growing across the country within their product. All of Toppers’ stores use 100 percent mozzarella cheese from cows in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. a decision that costs the company about $400,000 a year, averaging about $5,000 per store.
Gittrich says that using a frozen pizza cheese product would allow them to lower the price of their pizza, but would also mean straying from who they are as a proud, Wisconsin brand.
We tout that we are a Wisconsin company that we use Wisconsin cheese, Gittrich said. We’re kinda the rowdy, fun loving little guy. We’re competing with these big fast food chains and we’re the little guy who kinda snubs our nose at those folks.
Quail says the emphasis of small town roots that Toppers has in Whitewater, resonates in his business practice.
We try to get involved with as many things as we can and keep it community based and not feel like one of the big guys that comes in and puts a store in and generates income, Quail said. We want to be part of the fabric that makes the community.