Toppers revamps for carryout

The chain opened the kitchen to cater to diners showing up in its stores more.
milwaukee toppers interior

The quick-service pizza industry has changed tremendously in the quarter century since Toppers Pizza delivered its first pie. With that in mind, the Wisconsin-based chain is redesigning its units with an eye toward takeaway customers. The new prototype—the model for 11 of the 15 units built this year—features a “show kitchen” as well as counter seating that allows guests to watch pizzas being made.

Carryout now accounts for about 40% of overall sales for the brand, says Chief Development Officer David Biederman. A decade ago, that number was just 5%, with delivery being the primary driver, he says. Now, “We have a lot more customers coming in and seeing us than ever before.”

The new prototype retains the typical unit size of 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. But it includes updated decor, energy-efficient exhaust hoods and a durable refrigerated makeline that’s more visually appealing for customers. Each unit costs between $320,000 and $360,000 to build out, which is about the same as the older restaurants, Biederman says.

The biggest change has been the open kitchen. “If there’s stuff you don’t want your customers to know, then don’t do an open kitchen,” he says. “We make dough, there’s flour, it goes everywhere. We make sure we’re getting the broom out.”

Toppers has always looked to hire friendly, engaged employees, he says—but those qualities are even more important now that workers chat with customers while assembling pizzas. “You’re seeing this natural progression as the business is changing,” says Biederman. “Our business is having to adapt more.” 

Concept: Toppers
Location: Milwaukee
Footprint: 1,200-1,500 square feet
Seating: 8 to 10
Key features: Open kitchen, energy-efficient hoods, refrigerated makeline, counter seating

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