Since 1991, Toppers Pizza has thrived throughout the Midwest by creating its own sweet spot: be the “little guy” that people are proud to call their pizza place and the growing chain that delivers what customers want. For nearly 25 years, this meant satiating hungry pizza lovers with bold, innovative flavors and high-quality ingredients—all delivered fast by friendly, passionate people. It’s a tactic that continues to work year after year—most recently, Toppers was ranked by Franchise Times in its esteemed “Fast & Serious” list, which highlights some of the industry’s smartest-growing brands. Now, as Toppers continues to compete against some of the industry’s biggest chains, the brand is taking its better pizza out West—for the first time ever, Toppers is making its way to Colorado and Wyoming.
Spearheading this expansion is Rocky Top Management, which is being led by Todd Geatches and Clayton Hartman. Together, they will open 13 Toppers units in Colorado and Wyoming over the next six years while also operating multiple Taco John’s locations.
“From the very beginning, it’s always been so important for us to be that go-to restaurant every time a customer wants convenience and a quality, made-from-scratch pizza. It’s a sweet spot that has really spoken to thousands of customers,” said Scott Gittrich, founder and President of Toppers Pizza. “Our goal is to keep on keeping on until we become a household name throughout the country, and we’re fortunate to have a group of dedicated franchisees like Geatches and Hartman to make that possible.”
As Geatches and Hartman front Toppers’ growth in these untapped markets, both bring with them a wealth of knowledge in the franchise space. Geatches has worked in the restaurant industry for 32 years. Beginning his career as an Oliver’s Pizza franchisee right out of high school in 1985, Geatches later went on to work for Papa John’s as a district manager in Denver, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque and Dallas. Over the years, he watched the brand grow from 400 locations to more than 2,500. Most recently, Geatches has been heavily involved in the operations of Taco John’s, a Mexican quick-service restaurant chain, through Mountain Restaurant Management. It was with that development group that he first teamed up with Hartman to steer the brand’s growth in the greater Denver area. Today, Mountain Restaurant Management oversees nine Taco John’s locations.
After experiencing significant success with Taco John’s, Geatches and Hartman decided it was time to take their business partnership further, and they were looking to invest in a new brand. That’s when they learned about franchising opportunities with Toppers.
“I decided to research several different chains: Papa John’s, Jet’s Pizza, Marco’s Pizza and Toppers Pizza. But what ultimately stood out was Toppers, and a big part of that was Scott Gittrich. Scott had figured out a way to target millennials—an important demographic to go after in the food industry. He knew exactly how to target those folks and bring them into Toppers restaurants,” Geatches said. “Of course, the quality of the product was a huge factor, too. When I first tried the pizza and Topperstix I fell in love—it was superior to all the other brands in just about every way.”
Today, after spending much of his 32-year career in the foodservice industry, it’s safe to say that Geatches knows what it takes—and what it doesn’t take—to thrive in a notoriously competitive segment: pizza. Geatches recently shared the advice he’s learned throughout his storied career with QSR Magazine. Here are his three secrets to success.
Connect Category and Leadership
Geatches believes there are similarities between Toppers and Papa John’s—and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, they both share the very thing that has helped the two brands thrive: a passion for pizza. When he first met John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s, he saw how a genuine love for really good ingredients could push a brand to the top. He found those same traits in Gittrich.
“Scott is very passionate, almost to a point I haven’t seen in anyone before. He wants to make sure we put out the best product He wants to make sure we have the best quality ingredients, whether we were a mom-and-pop chain or the largest chain in the world,” Geatches told QSR Magazine. “He wants to be the best, and he’s got passion that I haven’t really seen since I first met Schnatter back in the early ‘90s.”
Market to Millennials
Geatches believes that one of the most important things a brand can do is go after the business world’s most coveted demographic—millennials. Millennials expect something more out of their go-to pizza place or taco joint. They’re not only interested in a product that tastes good—they want to know that the brand they’re putting their money into is associated with a cause they support, too.
“Toppers has been associated with several causes over the years, and hunger-related issues have been among them. There’s some giveback from the company, which I think is huge,” Geatches told QSR Magazine. “Not only is it important for me and our group and our team members, but I also think our customers see that we’re not just some massive corporate structure.”
Make Employees Your No. 1 Priority
Toppers isn’t just focused on delivering a high-quality product—the brand also puts a huge emphasis on being a great place to work for its Team Members. A lot of companies like to talk about the importance of their core values, but very few actually embody them. At Toppers, integrity drives everything—this means hiring people with positive and collaborative attitudes who are driven by making customers happy and making each other happy when they’re at work.
“Everything is dependent on finding great people. We’re trying to put out a quality product, and we’re trying to make a decent place for our customers, but mainly for our team members,” Geatches told QSR Magazine. “That’s one thing that Toppers has done incredibly well. The brand sees what our Team Members need, not only from a financial perspective, but also by offering benefits like having personal days or paid vacation for all hourly Team Members.”