Moving forward, Gittrich feels confident about Toppers’ unique menu and small footprint that boasts a 75 percent digital sales mix. To date, 72 percent of the brand’s sales come from menu items that are differentiated from the typical quick-service pizza segment. Think mac and cheese pizza, monkey bread, and plant-based pizza.
The restaurant business has been reset, Gittrich says. With so many businesses closing, the executive believes there’s major opportunities for brands to reemerge with quick, convenient, technology-driven products and variety. That makes it perfect timing for Toppers to open new locations.
“We are in an environment where every restaurant in one form or another is finding their way to a small footprint,” the CEO says. “They're finding their way to technology. They're finding their way to delivery. They're finding their way to high quality, plant based, made from scratch. That's us. That's our DNA.”
During the early weeks of COVID, when consumers made a quick and hard pivot to off-premises, pizza concepts thrived because of the food's familiarity, portability, and value proposition. Toppers was one of the beneficiaries, with same-store sales rising 20 percent in 2020. Additionally, the brand leveraged momentum to accelerate its digital offerings. This summer, the brand launched a new loyalty program called “The Upper Crust Society.” Members earn one point for every dollar spent. For every 100 points, customers will receive a $10 reward toward any menu item.
However, Gittrich acknowledges that his confidence wasn't as high in the early beginning stages of COVID.
“There was that three weeks right at the beginning where we all thought, is this the end?” Gittrich says. “And certainly, from a business standpoint, our sales just fell off a cliff there for about three weeks or so.”
But Toppers stayed open and delivered to people throughout the worst days of the pandemic. There were challenges around every corner, but the brand pushed through, adding curbside pickup and contactless delivery early-on to meet consumers where it was most convenient.
Toppers had always prided itself on being open longer than anyone in the business, until 2 or 3 a.m. Gittrich says. And he didn’t want that commitment to change even as the pandemic shifted everyday life. Roughly 70 percent of off-premises sales come through the company's first-party delivery program.
“We kept the commitment to our hours and our customers,” Gittrich says. “We continued to maintain our cadence of menu innovation, and we think those things paid off.”
Because of these choices, the CEO says customers see Toppers as a consistent place compared to other chains. As the brand accelerates its presence across the country, Gittrich is confident that the U.S. will eventually have a total of 3,000 Toppers stores coast to coast.
“We believe that quality and variety in [quick-service] pizza is lacking,” Gittrich says. “We're proud to have differentiated ourselves: made from scratch food, innovative categories, with all of the great service and technology that our industry is known for.