Newly-minted dough wrangler Victoria West is issuing the following challenge to existing pizza places in Burnsville: Can you top this?
In late July, West opened a Toppers Pizza joint—the first south metro outpost for the punchy Wisconsin-based franchise, which has a stated goal of nothing less than worldwide domination. The company is in the midst of an agressive expansion plan with the aim of achieving complete pizza primacy.
For Burnsville and Apple Valley residents, a new player has entered the pizza scene south of the river, but for West the business offers a new life entirely. West entered the corporate world after graduating from Augsburg College with a major in economics and business administration. But through the years of internal consulting at Target Corporation, she harbored hope that she would one day own her own business.
"The leap for me was about having a more autonomy, and a direct correlation between the hard work I put in and success," West said. "It's been a dream of mine ever since I can remember."
West decided to go into business with her sister and brother-in-law, Katie and Lonnie Provencher of Lakeville. Last year, the trio began exploring possible ownership opportunities. They happened upon Toppers, an up-and-coming chain that was named one of the Top 50 Fastest Growing Chain Restaurants in the U.S. The company is the brainchild of CEO Scott Gittrich, a former Domino’s Pizza delivery driver who decided to "rebel against big box pizza chains" in 1984 by developing a franchise concept that included "from scratch" food and an edgy marketing sensibility.
"I ate at Toppers last fall and was really impressed," West said.
The trio did some digging, then went to see the company in action: Lonnie Provencher and West went out to an opening of store in Green Bay, WI. The trip was the deciding factor.
"We decided it would be a good fit for us. It was awesome food, a fun store," West said. "That was when we decided to commit."
West quit her job at Target in April, then spent a month at the Toppers headquarters and store in Whitewater, WI where she learned all the tricks of the trade—how to make the dough (whipped up fresh every day) and put together a pizza, box it up and deliver it. She was also schooled in management, administration, payroll and bookwork.
"I would like to say that I surprised myself: I make a pretty good skin, that's the dough when you stretch it out," West said. "But I'm really proud that I had the fortitude to keep going forward. There are a lot of roadblocks and scary moments after quitting a full-time job with security."
The three decided to debut their first store in Burnsville, which was a cental location for all parties involved. Toppers is now up and running at 1000 County Road 42 East.
"We're excited about Burnsville. People here are great," West said. "This town has a lot of pizza options, but quite frankly we think they deserve better."
West and the Provenchers plan to expand from rapidly here. The trio has signed a development agreement that calls for five new stores in just two-and-a-half years.
"It's relatively aggressive. We'll be heading north and east of Burnsville, though I prefer not to say exactly where," West said. "That's one of the reasons it's so exciting for us to staff up the store in Burnsville. We'll be offering employees an opportunity for advancement."
"I'll be the general manager in Burnsville as long as I can but we'll need people to take over—general managers as we get bigger, assistant managers and shift leads—and we're excited to be able to offer that," she added.
Burnsville's Toppers is just one example of the chain's exponential growth strategy. At present, Toppers can count 42 locations spread across Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska. Upcoming openings include locations in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas. The company is gunning for maximum growth and market saturation in the Midwest: 150 total stores by 2015 and 500 by 2020.