Toppers Pizza Makes Entry Into Arkansas, Eyes College Kids in Conway

A new chain has entered central Arkansas’ crowded pizza restaurant market: Toppers Pizza, which last month opened a location at 895 Oak St. in Conway and is looking to open four more stores, in the Little Rock area, North Little Rock and Benton.

“We could possibly get two to three additional Toppers open next year,” Chris Cheek, chief development officer at Toppers, said. “But our first objective is to make sure we identify the best locations we can for our franchise partner there. And we’re very excited about the Conway store being the first step for that.”

That franchisee is Erle Hammans of Little Rock. A Stuttgart native, Hammans’ profession is medical sales, but he worked at a number of restaurants while attending the University of Arkansas, and the general manager of his Conway store, Ty Lanehart, has more than 15 years of restaurant experience.

Hammans is the franchisee for the four other Toppers planned for the area, and he expects to open the second store next year. He is high on Toppers, which he calls a phenomenon in its home state of Wisconsin. “Everybody loves and talks about Toppers Pizza,” Hammans said, adding that “the support we get from Toppers has been incredible.”

What makes Toppers, founded in 1991 and based in Whitewater, Wis., different? First, it focuses on pizza delivery, an approach that particularly makes sense in a college town like Conway. The pizza-delivery category “is a very robust and mature category,” Cheek said, “with a lot of very, very good competitors.”

To differentiate itself from those many competitors, Toppers seeks “to kill it on every aspect of the customer experience,” Cheek said. “What that means is that we’re not just doing delivery of pizza. Our delivery drivers should be seen running to and from your door when they’re delivering pizza. They should show up at your door with not only the pizza and the order accurate but with napkins, paper plates, offering you Parmesan cheese or red pepper to go with that. We’re trying to add a hospitality element to pizza delivery.”

Part of that customer experience includes the chain’s expansive delivery hours, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

In addition, Toppers has unique menu items, including its trademarked Topperstix, dough topped with garlic butter and cheese, and unorthodox pizzas like Mac ‘N Cheese, the Potato Topper and the also trademarked Hangover Helper.

“Thirdly, we seek to be different by being a little bit irreverent,” Cheek said. “A little bit irreverent, a little bit rebellious, but all wrapped up in a package that focuses on very, very strong guest service.”

The company also cites a focus on demographics, particularly its “ability to tap into the most influential demographic, the millennial generation.”

Toppers has 49 stores, 34 of which are owned by franchisees, and has a particularly strong presence in the upper Midwest.

Cheek said, “One of the good things about a category being mature — and the pizza delivery category is mature — in the restaurant industry is that our other great competitors in that category have proven that if you deliver on your promise to the guest and product, pizza delivery works almost everywhere.”