Topper’s Pizza has a long pedigree that began when the Toppazzini family of bakers moved to Canada in 1904. The secret family recipe for dough that was perfected over many decades became the basis for the pizza company started by Ron Toppazzini in Sudbury in 1982.
“What differentiates us from our competitors is our product,” says marketing manager Sharron Fry. “We’re a gourmet pizza place. We make our dough fresh in every store every single day.” The hand-stretched dough is trademarked as the “authentic Italian bread crust.”
The company even grows its own tomatoes, making sure that the ones ending up in its sauce are vine-ripened.
Toppers started franchising in 1986 and now has 36 locations in Ontario, 12 of them owned by the company. It is still a family affair. Ron’s sons Keith and Kelly Toppazzini now run the company, with some of the third generation working there, as well.
Emaan Toppazzini, Keith’s wife, is responsible for crafting unique pizzas that have kept the company current even as it holds fast to tradition. In addition to wings and salads, it offers 20 specialty pizzas, including the Thai Sensation, which features chicken strips topped off with the company’s proprietary sweet and spicy Thai sauce. It has also kicked things up a notch with cinnamon-apple crisp and cherry crisp desert pizzas topped with cream cheese icing.
Woodbridge-based Pizzaville is another franchisor working hard to evolve with changing tastes and try new menu items.
Alan Serrecchia, franchise development director, notes that there are more pizzerias per capita in Southern Ontario than anywhere else in the world. And that is why the companies must innovate.
“We love our pizza,” Serrecchia says. “So you’ve got to find your niche.”
Pizzaville’s goal is to produce a high-volume product that is as close as possible to what customers would find in high-end restaurants with wood-burning stoves.
To this end it bakes its pizza on hot stones. It’s a slower and harder method than conveyor ovens, he says, but customers like the result.
As far as new products go, Pizzaville has rolled out the arancini, a handmade breaded and fried rice ball popular in Italy. “People have responded really well to those,” Serrecchia says.
The company has also been in the forefront of catering to an increasingly health-conscious consumer. It was the first quick-service eatery to join the Health Check program, for instance, and has since come out with a popular ultrathin crust and a gluten-free pizza.
The company has 75 franchise locations throughout Ontario. And while it has a presence in some big markets, such as Woodbine Racetrack and York University, it has also had good luck in smaller, less urban locations.
“In the smaller communities as you build, you build up buzz,” Serrecchia says. “Word-of-mouth is powerful in those communities and people are faithful to the brand.”
The St. Louis Bar & Grill, which had as its genesis a bistro at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, has grown over the last decade to 41 stores with another 10 booked for this year.
Steve Drexler, vice-president of franchise development, says the secret to the company’s success is in the sauce – wings and ribs sauce to be specific.
The company’s wings are all marinated in proprietary products and its dipping sauces are also its alone.
“Tuesday night in the GTA is our wing night, and we are famous for that,” Drexler says. “People have tried to replicate what we do, but no one is able to match what we do.”
One store opened in New Brunswick last year, and the company sees the East Coast as a target for more expansion. “It’s a good young demographic that is drawn to our product line,” Drexler says. “Rents are significantly cheaper than out West and in Ontario, so in terms of the business model it works.”