In a push to enter the small fast casual pizza segment, Lori Walderich -- chief creative officer at IdeaStudio -- and her husband Jeff recently founded Top That! Pizza, which taps into the create-your-own concept made famous by chains such as Chipotle and Subway.
Beautiful Brands International CEO/founder David Rutkauskas was immediately sold on the idea and added Tulsa, Okla.-based Top That! to his company's brand portfolio as a client.
It seems Rutkauskas isn't the only one attracted to the model. This week, Top That! announced its first development agreement for unit expansion throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and North Texas. The deal is one of the largest in BBI's franchising history and will be springboarded by development agents Pat and Deborah Calhoun of Tulsa.
Pat Calhoun grew up working in the restaurant industry and has extensive experience in human resources, training and team-building. At the end of January, he will retire from his career at the Tulsa Police Department and begin work on his first store. “We are shooting for an early spring open date,” he said. “I have a location picked out and we’re actively negotiating it now.”
Calhoun said he wanted to be the concept’s first developer because he fell in love with the idea of fast casual custom pizzas. “I was there on opening day and kept coming back each week, trying all the different options and studying the way the concept works. I knew early on that it was going to be big and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.
The first Top That! Pizza unit opened in October in a former Quiznos store. The conversion took six weeks and incorporated 90 percent of the existing Quiznos equipment, which saved time and money on buildout.
The smooth transition and utilization of Quiznos equipment outlines the new brand's build-your-own concept, but with pizza. The Top That! menu allows guests to choose, assembly line-style, from three kinds of gourmet style crusts (white, multigrain and honey wheat), as well as nine sauces, including bold Italian red, basil pesto, creamy nada vodka, barbecue, Thai peanut, sweet Roma red and angry Alfredo.
Guests can also choose their toppings from more than 20 fresh vegetables, 10 meats and seven cheeses such as asiago, feta, gorgonzola, provolone, parmesan, sharp cheddar and pecorino romano.
In addition to quality and variety, cost and convenience are factored into this fledgling venture: Top That! uses fast-cooking ovens that bake customers' selections in full-view in less than 5 minutes. And, 9-inch pies are all offered at $5.99, regardless of amount or types of toppings.
“This concept satisfies customers on so many levels,” Lori Walderich said. “The price is right, the pizza is delicious and it’s fast enough to draw a valuable group of customers who don’t have much more than 30 minutes for weekday lunch. Then in the evenings the restaurant scores with families and kids. I think the versatility explains why repeat business has been so strong. It’s actually surprised all of us how quickly this idea has caught on.”
Moving forward, Top That! will utilize BBI’s organizational and support systems to franchise the brands in national and international markets.
"This (potential) 200 unit, four-state deal is a landmark accomplishment for our company and I'm thrilled to be a part of it," said Rutkauskas. "Top That! Pizza has a solid business model and the potential to become a star player in our client portfolio. There truly isn't anything like TTP anywhere and we're excited to work alongside Jeff and Lori to make it a terrific success."