The sweet smell of baking bread that once lured people into a quaint bakery in Sudbury’s Little Italy has transformed into a recipe for success for the Toppazzini family.
Topper's Pizza is one of the province’s fastest growing pizza franchises with a new concept restaurant set to open in its hometown by year's end and a goal to open 225 franchises across Ontario in seven years.
“When growth starts it seems to take on a momentum of its own, and certainly when that happens, you have to hold on tight,” said Keith Toppazzini, president and chief operating officer of Topper's Pizza based in Barrie.
The story begins more than a century ago when Giuseppi Toppazzini left his hometown in northern Italy destined for small town Canada. He arrived in Sudbury, as legend has it, with no more than a bread recipe in hand.
He opened Toppazzini’s Bakery in the working class neighbourhood of Copper Cliff, which his son Guerino (Bruce) took over and operated until 1970. The celebrated bread recipe was passed down from generation to generation until it reached Ron Toppazzini, grandson of Giuseppi and founder of Topper's.
Ron was a master baker by trade and when he lost his job at Bonimart’s bakery, that family entrepreneurial spirit was reignited. He opened the first storefront on Notre Dame Avenue in 1982 and within nine years the company grew to nine pizzerias.
Sons Kelly and Keith took over the business when their father retired and with a strong focus on franchise and business development, they’ve since expanded beyond Sudbury.
“Dad took the business where he wanted it to be,” said Kelly, who is based in Sudbury. “As soon as I graduated from university, my personal goal was to ensure the Toppers brand was there for another 100 years. My secondary goal was to expand across Canada.”
There are a total of 35 Topper's Pizza stores in Ontario, with 28 stores located outside of Sudbury including Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo. There’s also interest to open franchises outside the province, the brothers said.
The company’s first “fast casual” 75-seat restaurant is scheduled to open before the end of the year in Chelmsford, an outlying suburb of Sudbury, located adjacent to an existing store.
“The focus of the restaurant is to have the same flavourful food we offer for delivery and carry-out but enjoy it in the restaurant,” said Keith.
Patrons will have the option to select from prepared menu items on display or sit down and order from a server.
The concept will be another franchise model of Topper's Pizza.
“I grew up on hamburgers and hotdogs,” said Keith, who refers to his children’s generation as “sushi eaters.”
He realizes the younger generation today has a more refined palate than he did as an adolescent.
We focus on the recipes, the specialty pizzas, everything from cutting our pepperoni 25 per cent thicker to having a family recipe, we’re heading in a direction we believe will be successful,” said Keith.
Ontario is a competitive market when it comes to pizza franchises. Consumers are inundated with brands from mom-and-pop-type pizzerias to national chains. So how does Topper's Pizza stay afloat in what seems to be a market flooded not only with pizzerias but other more sophisticated food options? “There’s a lot of competition in the pizza industry and there’s a lot of competition in the franchising industry,” said Kelly. “So it’s a doubleedged sword. But at the same time, our core values seems to be something that resonates with people.”
Respect, hard work and maintaining family values in the business world are important to the Toppazzini brothers.
Making a tasty pizza is another key ingredient to success.
“Some companies may focus on a budget, we focus on flavour,” said Keith. “We just had a planning session and we’re looking at four new recipes coming up.”
Over the summer Topper's Pizza was featured on an episode of the Food Network’s “Giving You the Business” where four Topper's manager-contestants were given the chance to win their own franchise. Outside of reality TV spotlight, the business is very much involved in the community, sponsoring charities and leading school fundraisers and reading programs.
“The community is very important to us,” said Kelly.