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Make New Friends, Treasure Old Friends

Toppers’ first and oldest franchisees are Andy and Caro Johnson. You can’t tell, but I just paused for a couple minutes and stared at that first sentence.  It means a lot; they mean a lot – to me personally and to Toppers Pizza.  It’s possible Toppers wouldn’t exist without them; for sure it wouldn’t be the same.  They took a chance on Toppers and me when it was a lot more of a chance than it is today.  When they opened their first store it was only the 3rd Toppers Pizza in existence!  That store and all of their stores are some of the best run restaurants you’ll ever find (not just at Toppers).  They bleed Toppers and so does their incredible and long tenured team.  You can visit their restaurants in and around Eau Claire, WI.

Our second franchisee was and is Bill Stayduhar. He owns stores in Charlotte, NC and is one of my favorite pizza people of all time.  And he’s a friend.  We were both Dominos guys “back in the day”.  Back when I was not only Toppers’ CEO, but also the Franchise Consultant, Real Estate Director, VP of Supply Chain, HR Manager, and a handful of other roles, I would sleep on Bill and Aimee’s couch when I travelled to Charlotte to work.  Bill’s values, personality and restaurant smarts are weaved into Toppers DNA forever.

Our third franchisees were and are Phil and Denise Downing. Their headquarters are in Lacrosse, WI and they run stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and soon to be Iowa.  They met each other when they were in their early 20s working at the original Toppers store in Whitewater!  I remember the day they opened their first store.  We took a picture of Phil clicking the open sign on, and then we went out with menus to teach people who the heck Toppers Pizza was.  Like Andy, Caro, and Bill, the Toppers story can’t be told without them.  They have made and do make Toppers what it is today.


Phil Downing, 2002


Today Toppers has 73 stores in 12 states and has tripled in size in about 4 years.  There are more than 20 franchisees and 2000 Toppers team members in Toppers Nation and it’s as exciting as ever to be at Toppers because of the fabulous growth and momentum we have.  In my role as CEO, I take any opportunity I’m given to share our vision for the future and to invite fabulous people to join us.

But you know what’s hard? It’s hard to not be as close to people like these three franchisees that I just told you about.  We all have much bigger businesses with a lot more people that we are connected to.  We all had kids, bought houses, and built an ever growing circle of friends and colleagues.  And it’s not just them.  The truth is that as our company grows, new and different people join the mix, the group gets bigger and relationships change.  There’s a certain melancholy to that fact, but for me it’s also thrilling.

A couple of weeks ago Toppers’ franchisees gathered together for a leadership conference.  They are a fabulous group of driven restaurant people, connected by values, a vision for the future, and common business interests.  But, just like Phil and Denise met under a Toppers logo, these franchisees are also  good friends and future friends and that’s pretty cool.

Most of our growth each year comes from our existing franchisees opening more and more restaurants, but we will selectively add 5- 8 new franchisees this year.  While it’s true that today our new franchisees are business people and experienced restauranteurs that are well financed, they are also fun and passionate people whose values align with ours, who love what they do, and who know how to take care of team members and customers!  We know what gives us our mojo, and we aren’t going to give that up.  A truth for Toppers People is that we treasure what we have, but we want more.  We were born to grow.  We are always on the verge of busting out.  We have that Never Settle spirit!


With Andy & Caro Johnson, 2014


I cherish my role at Toppers and the relationships that I have.  I recognize that who Toppers is today, what we have accomplished in the past and what we will do in the future is all about people:  Toppers people – those that have been around since the beginning and those not-yet Toppers people we will meet next week.  As a father of 5 kids I can tell you with confidence:  if you have your priorities straight, love multiplies, it doesn’t divide!

Looking forward >


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Scott Gittrich

Scott’s unwavering affection for pizza became a full-fledged love affair when he decided to drop out of college to focus on a career at Domino’s after only two weeks on the job. The gamble paid off as he worked his way up through the company’s system. He stayed focused on having a successful career in the restaurant industry and he decided to create a pizza concept, Toppers Pizza, which delivered unique, fresh food made from scratch that rivaled anything available. Pizza is the best food in the world, there’s nothing that’s as celebratory and fun as pizza. It brings people together like no other product on earth.


  1. Carolina Johnson says:

    It has been a fantastic ride Scott! 😀 Thank you for your trust in us to help make Toppers awesome! 😀

  2. ahhh Caro, thank you for your leadership. Yes, it’s been real fun. We’re just getting started girl…. S

  3. jonpcrowe says:

    Very nice!

  4. denisedowning says:

    The individuals in this photo are my second family for sure. We all have the same dream, the same values and work together as a group to achieve the same goals. I am lucky to have meet every-single-one of these great people. Thanks Scott for following through on your dreams and helping us achieve ours.

  5. Ashley Saucedo says:

    Hands down Andy and Caro are the best employers I have ever worked for! From their inspiring passion and drive to their kickass attitude, they have shown me just how important it is, to absolutely LOVE what you do in life. I am forever grateful for their kindness and unforgetable work-family atmosphere. I will always be proud to say that I was lucky enough to work with them. #Toppersfamily

  6. Denise, sometimes when I tell the Toppers story I say that I was confident from the beginning that we could sell pizza, but that the dream was that Toppers could be a special place for those of us that made it home. That is a dream that can only be accomplished as a group. I didn’t follow through on that dream, we all did it and still are. Just read Ashley’s comment on this article. Wow, that is a dream come true right there. Thank you again for the fun. Let’s see what we can get done in the next 20 years or so! S

  7. Paul & Sue Wilke says:

    Congrats to all of you! You are all some of our favorite people and we miss you all!! Thanks for allowing us to be part of Toppers Nation! We still have pizza sauce running through of and will always wish only the best to our Toppers peeps!

    1. Hey Paul and Sue! I miss you both. I was just having a conversation with our new franchisee in Kansas City about how great you were/are. You sure knew how to take care of customers and team members…and your sales showed it! Maybe you should crash our convention this year; it’s at Disney! I’ll be the guy with the ears. Love, Scott

  8. Beth Larson says:

    It’s an honor & privilege working with such fantastic people who share the mission of being the best pizza company in the world. The people & relationships are why living out the core values is a reality, it’s not just words on paper.

    1. http://www./ says:

      I didn’t make your going away dinner but reading your blog makes me feel I’m right next to you on the streets. Happy thanksgiving and although it doesn’t apply to whereever you are, we still have things to be thankful for…

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