August 8, 2017

David Farkas

The industry is again enamored with delivery. Higher-end restaurants that traditionally haven’t delivered have jumped in the space, facilitated by third parties who charge both eatery and customer for their service. You may recall a similar preoccupation when Domino’s pizza promised 30-minute delivery 50-plus years ago. It discontinued the guarantee nearly 25 years ago. Yet delivery lives on.

“That’s the future,” declares new Toppers Pizza franchisee Mike McLaughlin, without a trace of irony. He cites the current success of Domino’s and Papa John’s as proof.

McLaughlin and business partner Willie Frank, who also operate a growing nine-unit Five Guys franchise in northern Virginia and southern Maryland, have agreed to open 22 Toppers in the same region over the next seven years.

“Willie and I have been looking for a second brand for a number of years,” he says, adding they researched several fast-casual pizza chains. “But we didn’t know which ones would survive.”

The pair were comfortable with Toppers, more of an old-school delivery model headquartered in Whitewater, Wisconsin. The franchisor nonetheless wasn’t ignoring digital efforts to enhance delivery. “Technology is revolutionizing what the pizza delivery guys are doing. For such a small company, Toppers gets that,” explains McLaughlin, who launched his career at Domino’s and later worked for Papa John’s.

The partners have agreed to open 22 units over seven years. “We were able to negotiate our development schedule,” McLaughlin says, adding new units, which cost about $425,000, will be financed with an SBA loan. The first two Toppers will open in Alexandria, Virginia, a residentially rich and affluent Washington, D.C., suburb; a third is planned for nearby Arlington.

Despite rents in the mid-$40s per square foot, the partners believe business will be robust in the right location. Offers McLaughlin: “Pizza delivery is all based on drive times. You identify the central area and look for a center point.”

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