Looking back, perhaps it was inevitable that Blaine residents Bryan and Erin Atwood would open their own Toppers.
The young couple (Bryan is 29; Erin is 28) met at Mankato State University. At the time, Bryan managed State Street Apartments, located next to the first-ever Minnesota Toppers location. “Our college meal plan was to eat Toppers every day,” he says.
Erin graduated with a background in business management and marketing while Bryan served for four years as a human intelligence collector in the Army. The couple had discussed franchising a business, but it wasn’t until advertising for Toppers franchises popped up a couple of years ago that they began seriously considering getting into one. Though their day jobs didn’t scream “pizza restaurant franchisees”—Erin was working as a real estate agent and Bryan was doing security background investigations for the government—they decided to make a go of it. (Bryan recalls thinking that “it always seems like they’re having a blast in there, so maybe we should look into it.”)
Bryan completed Toppers’ introductory training and general manager training in Whitewater, Wisconsin, the birthplace of the brand, and both Bryan and Erin went to Toppers University—a thing that apparently exists—to learn about operations.
What sets Toppers apart from the competition, Bryan says, is quality. You might not have noticed as much if you’ve only ever drunk-ordered Topperstix at 1 a.m., but Toppers owners make their own dough fresh in-store every day, hand-cut most of their own vegetables, and use 100 percent real Wisconsin cheese on their pies. “Which the other guys just aren’t doing,” he says.
The couple lives just a few minutes from their just-opened location in the Club West Plaza, a high-traffic area near Highway 65 and the National Sports Center (10950 Club West Pkwy. NE #130). “It’s a really fun place, fun atmosphere,” Bryan says. “We’re one of the few locations that are going to have a show kitchen, so we can show off our awesome pizza-making skills and let people enjoy being a part of it.”
Opening a pizza joint was a little scary given that neither of the Atwoods have restaurant experience, but their backgrounds are actually proving handy. “One of the many things the Army taught me is what it means to be a leader, not a boss,” says Bryan, whose domain involves operational tasks, growing the team, and customer care. “To be successful in the military you need to be disciplined, task-oriented, reliable, work well in a team, and understand what it means to live with values. The best business owners share these same traits.” As the social butterfly of the couple, Erin acts as the marketing manager and will work on teaming up with other small businesses, integrating the business into the community, and working closely with schools.
Blaine's Toppers is primarily for carryout and delivery, but up to 15 people can be accommodated in the space at bar seating and a few tables. The store, which celebrated its grand opening on May 5, will be the northernmost Toppers in the metro area, and Bryan says it’s about time his neighborhood had a solid pizza place. If the Atwoods’ location is well-received in Blaine, they’ll move forward on opening more locations, likely in the north metro.
“The north metro band doesn’t have good pizza options,” he says. “It’s kind of disappointing. You have all your standard ‘the big three’ as we call them: the Dominos, the Papa Johns, and the Pizza Huts.
“We know of a place where we can get a quality pizza,” Bryan adds, “but that’s not anything new. We know a place that can give good pricing and fast delivery. And we know of other places that give the outstanding customer experience. But those are never the same place. Toppers is one that’s truly doing it all at the same time.”