Toppers certainly got Domino's attention. As mentioned, the famed pizza chain started rattling their legal sabers over the ad showing one of their trucks. “We actually took that photograph,” Gittrich says. “We own the photograph. We took the photograph. It was a truck sitting in front of one of their stores. We didn't PhotoShop it at all. We never had any doubt about the legality and ethics of it. There never was any question. I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't certain. We sure weren't going to outspend them in some legal fight, right? We were very confident that it was going to stand up before we ever ran it. We got a lot of great social out of it. It was the best social interaction that we've had with our customers and the public at large ever. It was fun. It was great.”
The Toppers founder notes that they have often sent out a challenge to competitors without a specific target. But he adds that even their longtime tagline, “Never Settle,” was meant as a “more in-your-face challenge to a customer: You're not going to eat their food, are you? You're not going to call them, are you? But that's part of being the little guy. We're the mavericks. That's just the air I've been breathing for a long, long time.”
Since day one, Gittrich and Toppers have been the little guy in a market segment dominated by major chains. While the competition was running TV ads, he was handing out fliers. He has always known they have to work harder, which has meant being bold—something that comes naturally to his team.
“We just feel like this is us,” he says. “We don't have to pretend to be somebody else. Since the early 2000s, we recognized we can just be ourselves. We can be silly or bold or talk smack. This is the way we are in the restaurants. This is just the way we treat each other. Let's just be like that with our customers. It's not a put on. If Pizza Hut did it, it would look like BS, a big chain feeding to the masses trying to look cool.”
The 27-year-old Toppers chain now totals 81 units located mostly in the Midwest—there are 36 alone in their home base of Wisconsin—and by 2023 plans to expand up to 250 units, which would inch the company closer in size to the larger chains it takes on. Gittrich sees Toppers having a distinct place in the market with their adherence to quality cheese and with their special, quirky toppings that include buffalo chicken, tater tots, nacho toppings, and buffalo chicken mac and cheese.