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Pizza with mushroom

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This is the latest entry in a series from Report on Small Business called Who Owns That. We've asked readers to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. The answers are edited.

Introducing Keith Toppazzini, president and chief operating officer of Ont.-based Topper's Pizza.

1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, how big it is, and number of locations?

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Although we opened our first store in 1982, in many respects our history dates back over a century ago to 1904. That was the year my great-grandfather Giuseppi Toppazzini decided to leave Italy and come to Canada with not much more than his family's secret Italian bread recipe.

That recipe would prove to be his meal ticket, as the Toppazzini Bakery he opened in Sudbury had a big impact on its customers and on the community at large. Giuseppi was able to pass the family bakery down to his son Bruce, who, in turn, passed it along to my father Ron.

Dad began experimenting with pizza recipes, with each one using our family's Italian bread as a base. In 1982, he founded Mr. Topper's Pizza . And despite its mid-recession launch, Mr. Topper's Pizza was an instant success, enabling my father to begin his corporate expansion just two years later. Enlisting my brother Kelly and I as managers, we expanded the chain to 9 locations by 1985 and also shortened the name to Topper's Pizza, as it is currently known.

Now that my father is retired, my brother Kelly Toppazzini is the chairman and chief executive officer, responsible for managing the 10 corporately-owned stores (six restaurants in Sudbury, two locations in Barrie, one in Georgetown and one in Oshawa) as well as the central Call Centre. As president and COO, I manage the franchising division, which has grown to 25 locations in Ontario, with continued expansion planned for 2013 and beyond.

2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to enter this industry?

The entrepreneurial spirit has been handed down in my family through the generations. It started with my great grandfather Giuseppi and his Italian bakery and this was passed on to my father when he established Mr. Topper's Pizza in 1982. Now my brother and I are continuing this legacy, driven by the desire to share Topper's Pizza with as many customers as possible across Canada.

3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?

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Our typical customer is the busy mom, doing her best to juggle a million things at once. She's drawn by Topper's variety of recipe choices, flavours and healthy dining choices. We have a broad spectrum of customers from teens to empty nesters, but families represent our core business and it's typically the mom who makes the call to order pizza, with input from the rest of the family. In terms of how they find us, not unlike most companies we use a combination of advertising, PR and the social media. But more often than not, people become customers and even franchisees through word of mouth.

4. How many employees do you have, and what is your role in the business?

Topper's has approximately 175 corporate employees, many of whom have been with the company for several years.

My role is to provide vision and guidance for all the franchisees and staff – essentially our "brand ambassadors" – who serve our guests daily. We have the infrastructure and support in place to open another three franchises this year, with the goal to double that expansion in 2014.

5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?

The biggest thing is flavour, starting with the most essential ingredient – the Italian bread dough that is made using our century-old family recipe. We take our bread crust standards so seriously that we've even trade-marked the recipe as Topper's ItalianBread TM crust. Other essential ingredients include hand-picked, farm fresh tomatoes infused with 100 per cent virgin olive oil, a rich, 100 per cent dairy mozzarella cheese based on Topper's own specifications and pepperoni that is dry cured and cut 25 per cent thicker than most of our competitors to enhance the true flavour of deli style pepperoni. On top of all of this, we have a unique range of recipes such as the "Tropical Heatwave" that make us different from mainstream pizza vendors.

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We also place a great deal of importance on the guest experience whether it's in store or delivery. Essentially, we want every customer to feel that they're our best customer.

Lastly, because of our size, we have still managed to maintain a family feel to our business. All of the store owners know each other on a first name basis and we all pull together to help ensure the success of one another.

Do you have a favourite small business you'd like to learn more about? Make suggestions and join the conversation on the Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group, use the comments field, or email us at smallbusiness@globeandmail.com. You can follow the series on our Pinterest page .

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