BEVERLY — Pizzas topped with macaroni and cheese, taco meat and Tater Tots are coming to the Southwest Side.
Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza will open a franchise at 2347 W. 95th St. in Beverly. The store is under construction and expects to debut sometime in the next few months, according to franchise operations director Mark Watt.
"Chicago is a pizza town, and we are a pizza company," Watt said. "I believe our pizza stands up to anybody's pizza."
Purists may cringe at the idea of a pizza topped with ingredients such as French fried onions and sold with a free barbecue dipping sauce. But Watt stands by his pies and believes this bold approach will connect with customers.
"It's the menu diversity. It's the unique toppings that you can't get anywhere else" that resonates, he said.
Toppers Pizza was founded in 1991 in Downstate Champaign. The chain opened in 1993 in Whitewater, Wis., where it's now headquartered.
Roughly a third of the company's 67 stores are in Wisconsin. Toppers Pizza has a goal of having 500 stores by 2020. The pizza chain expects about a third of those stores to be corporate owned while the remaining stores will be handed out to franchisees.
Benjamin Tresidder has been awarded the Beverly franchise. His store will open after Toppers Pizza openings in Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park next month, Watt said.
"Ben fell in love with our pizza in Milwaukee," Watt said, adding he expects the newest Toppers Pizza franchisee to move to the South Side.
The three newest Illinois stores join Toppers Pizza existing locations in Bucktown, Greektown and the South Loop. The chain also has stores and suburban Mount Prospect and DeKalb.
After opening the Beverly store, Tresidder plans to add another restaurant somewhere in the south Chicago market in 2016. A Toppers Pizza is also expected to open in suburban Streamwood next year, Watt said.
"The next logical large market for us to go is Chicago," said Watt, adding Toppers Pizza has recently completed a push into Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The bulk of Toppers Pizza's business comes via delivery and carry-out. A few seats are available in the restaurant but there's no table service for dine-in customers.
The chain's cheesy bread sticks, known as Topperstix, are its signature item. Most people opt for the standard variety, but the chain also sells Chocolate Baconstix covered with bacon and drizzled with melted chocolate.
Topperstix come with your choice of 16 different dipping sauces that can also be used for the pizzas. And while the mac-and-cheese and Tater Tot pizzas draw the most attention, Toppers Pizza's top-selling specialty pizza is the Buffalo Chicken Topper.
This pizza starts and ends with a mild buffalo and ranch sauce. It's topped with mozzarella cheese, bacon bits and diced buffalo chicken. It's then drizzled with this same mild buffalo and ranch sauce. Some customers also opt to dip it into ranch dressing.
In Beverly, Toppers Pizza enters into a market dominated by beloved local restaurants such as Fox's Pizza and Milano's. Other iconic Chicago brands including Home Run Inn and Giordano's also have a presence.
None of that seemed to worry Watt, who believes his unique menu and wide array of toppings — including three different types of pepperoni — will quickly gain a following.
"Customization is our thing," he said.
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