New pizza joint hopes to top the competition

Stadium Village is home to five pizza restaurants within a two-block radius.

Amanda Bankston

Toppers Pizza will fire up its ovens for customers at its new Stadium Village location for the first time Saturday.

The new restaurant on Washington Avenue will be the chainâÄôs third in the state âÄî part of a plan to open more than 70 restaurants across the nation in the next two years.

The expanding Midwest chain will become the fifth pizza place in a two-block radius, raising the question of whether the college-aged market can be oversaturated with pizza.

Probably not, say a Carlson School of Management marketing professor, neighboring pizza parlors and ToppersâÄô store manager Pat Klasen.

Campus Pizza, less than a five-minute walk from the new Toppers location, has called Stadium Village home for more than 50 years and isnâÄôt too worried about the new competition. Owner Jim Rosvold compared the campus pizza market to automobiles âÄî filled with a variety of makes and models.

âÄúYou have your BMWs, your Pintos, your Cadillacs,âÄù he said. âÄúEvery place is a little bit different.âÄù

But having so many competitors in the area is a positive thing, he said.

 âÄúIf youâÄôre a pizza lover, Stadium Village is a great place to go,âÄù he said. âÄúWe have a little bit of everything here.âÄù

Mark Bergen, a Carlson  School marketing professor, said similar restaurants often cluster in one area to make it âÄúthe place to be.âÄù

Early promotions and buzz are likely to get people in ToppersâÄô doors, but many fast-food establishments struggle to keep them coming back, Bergen said.

He said in the crowded campus market, Toppers will be able to stick around if it can do one of three things âÄî provide the same or better quality pizza at lower prices, create a better all-around experience than competitors or meet the needs of a certain customer type previously ignored by the market.

Klasen promised to do all three. Toppers will âÄúpush the pizza envelopeâÄù and cater to the needs of a college-aged pizza consumer in order to set it apart, he said.

âÄúWeâÄôre really trying to reinvent the pizza market,âÄù he said, âÄúespecially with all of the bigger chains being kind of boring.âÄù

With marketing that promises its pizza will âÄúspank your taste budsâÄù and with a focus on âÄúthe fun side of things,âÄù Klasen said Toppers offers the experience students have been seeking âÄî but not getting âÄî from the competition.

Klasen said he was attracted to the location, whose neighbors include residence halls, bars and sports venues, because of its potential for walk-up business.

Rosvold has seen a number of pizza places come and go over the years, but those able to stick around follow traditions rather than trends, he said.

He said he wouldnâÄôt be too fast to count out Papa JohnâÄôs or DominoâÄôs, which have both been in the Stadium Village for decades, and added that while business may dip a little when a new restaurant opens, customers tend to return to their old staples after a while.

Rosvold also said it will be difficult to draw attention to the business with heavy Central Corridor light-rail construction outside of the new storeâÄôs front door.

Klasen says heâÄôs is aware of the challenge.

âÄúItâÄôs going to be a little different for us,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to have a tougher time getting people to notice us.âÄù

In an effort to hit the ground running, the first 50 people in line when the restaurant opens at 10:30 a.m. Saturday will receive a free menu item each week for a calendar year.

Klasen said though the experience and fun are part of the business, fresh, made-from-scratch food is at the heart of what they do.

âÄúWe look at what competitors do and do the complete opposite,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs Toppers.âÄù