Toppers Pizza celebrates 50th store opening

By Ali Combs

Toppers Pizza is celebrating the opening of its 50th store in Ann Arbor, Mich., to serve the University of Michigan community, much in the same way it serves NIU and DeKalb.

Scott Gittrich founded Toppers Pizza in 1991 after working for a major pizza chain for eight years as a delivery driver and manager. Gittrich attended the University of Illinois as an engineering student but decided to change paths and open his own pizza shop.

“I wanted to play my radio in the store and wear my hair a little bit longer…I started delivering in college and 28 years later and here I am still in the pizza business. Who knew?” Gittrich said.

Along with high quality ingredients and pizzas made from scratch, Gittrich said the success of Toppers can largely be attributed to its unique business model, dubbed “hyper-local.”

“We’re not going to compete with Pizza Hut by outspending them on TV,” Gittrich said. “We’re just going to kick their butts with high quality food…It’s more store-by-store and pizza-by-pizza.”

Toppers works to outsell major pizza chains by embedding itself in the community and is always looking for new franchisees to open up new stores and help grow the brand. Gittrich said many franchisees are employees and customers who like the brand so much that they take on a store for themselves.

Brian Fitzgerald, Toppers delivery driver and sophomore marketing major, said Toppers offered him a challenge and a possible career.

“It’s one of the busiest pizza places in town,” Fitzgerald said.He also said he could see himself working his way up in the company.

“Primarily, we’re looking for good people who are driven, have the money that’s needed to open up at least one store and are fun people that we want to work with,” Gittrich said.

Toppers in DeKalb, located at 1015 W. Lincoln Highway, is a corporate-run store but maintains a hyper-local model.

“I actually started here as a delivery driver when I was going to school, and right after I graduated I became manager here,” said Justin Walton, Toppers Pizza manager and NIU alumnus.

During the next few years, Toppers is looking to continue rapid growth. Gittrich said the brand has nearly doubled in size in the last 18 months, opening 23 new stores all around the nation.

“We’ll open maybe 15 or 20 new stores by the end of 2013,” Gittrich said. “We plan on opening about 10 more each year than the previous year until we get to our 500th in 2020.”

According to brand communicator Brian Jaeger, the 50th store’s grand opening will take place Feb. 14.