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Former Badgers star becomes owner of Madison-area Toppers Pizza franchises

As he embarks on a professional football career, former Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor is also taking a bite out of the business world as the newest franchise owner with Toppers Pizza.

With his full NFL career in front of him, Jonathan Taylor, former Badgers record-setting running back and now Indianapolis Colt, is already taking a page from the Payton Manning playbook and protecting his investment in himself by becoming a pizza franchisee — in this case, joining the ownership group of the four Madison-area Toppers Pizza locations.

“One thing that led me to become a Toppers Pizza owner was definitely the service they provided me throughout my years at the University of Wisconsin, whether that was 11 at night or 12 in the afternoon,” says Taylor. “The relationship that I have with Scott [Gittrich, Toppers founder and president] is special as we stand for and are driven by the same goals and values, so it was a perfect fit.”

According to Taylor, the connection went beyond just late-night cravings, as it turns out that his head marketing agent’s wife, Rachel, had a business relationship with a representative from the Toppers marketing team and connected him with Gittrich, which led to a conversation about their shared motives and goals.

“Over a few weeks, I came to know Jonathan as a smart, high-integrity competitor and winner,” notes Gittrich about their introduction following the Badgers’ Rose Bowl appearance in January. “In many ways he has also been an underdog his entire life, but surpassing expectations by kicking ass and winning. Once I learned that he also has a strong desire to keep roots and do good work in Madison and Wisconsin, I knew we had to do something big, so I suggested the idea of his actually becoming the franchise owner of the four stores in Madison/Dane County.”

Gittrich says despite Taylor’s preparations leading up to the NFL draft in April, he has already met many restaurant team members and other Toppers franchisees to form connections with the pizza franchise that he signed a lifetime partnership with.

For Taylor’s part, his commitment to Toppers isn’t just in name only.

“I’m definitely not a silent partner,” says Taylor. “As a franchisee and spokesperson, I will make time throughout the year where I will be physically available in the Madison stores. The rest of the time I will be accessible by phone, email, or Zoom to uphold the standard set by the Toppers Pizza team.”

Taylor also did his homework before leaping into the fray of the business world,

For the philosophy major — who notes does plan to finish his degree — considering all of his options before making a decision is nothing new.

“There is a strong relationship between philosophy and business because it requires you to use a critical-thinking process,” explains Taylor. “In the business world, numbers don’t lie; you need to be able to crunch numbers and need to know how certain business terms go hand in hand to make educated decisions. Every little detail and every little ounce of information that you have allows you to compile a series of claims and ultimately gets you to a conclusion.”

Facing new realities

Making the leap from college to the pros while also becoming a pizza franchise owner at the same time would be a lot to put on anyone’s plate, but doing all of that in the midst of a global pandemic puts an entirely different spin on things.

“My motivation was getting to know Scott and cherish[ing] the same values that drove us throughout our careers — Scott in the pizza business and me in the football world,” notes Taylor. “This decision really wasn’t an ‘I know my career could be short, let me try and get into something’ type of thing. I have a genuine appreciation for my relationship with Scott and it led to an awesome opportunity.”

That said, Taylor understands these are tough times. “We are in unchartered waters with COVID-19. The biggest thing is staying safe and healthy and obeying parameters that have been put in place.”

Gittrich also sees how much COVID-19 has impacted the world, even as his business is one of the lucky ones that’s thriving under the current conditions.

“We have always felt that pizza delivery is an essential business,” he states. “Ever since safer-at-home orders have been put in place, this aspect has really been something that has impacted us emotionally in terms of coming together and team morale,” explains Gittrich. “We have a heightened sense of responsibility and realization that what we’re doing truly makes a difference. Being essential employees gives our team a lot of pride — delivering food in our communities, when our customers need us most, and providing some normalcy during these uncertain times is a true privilege.”

Gittrich says fortunately none of Toppers’ 38 locations in Wisconsin, plus locations in 11 other states, have had to furlough any employees. In fact, the company is looking to hire employees across all of its locations — between five to 10 per location and about 600 people across the system.

“We have been looking to hire employees in the restaurant industry who have recently lost their jobs due to restaurant closures and are reaching out to offer those opportunities, even if it’s for a short period of time until they are able to return to their former position,” Gittrich notes.

In terms of transitioning its business model during the COVID-19 crisis, Toppers has implemented curbside pickup so that its customers can still get their food as safely as possible and it has implemented the option of no-contact delivery.

“No-contact delivery and curbside pickup will most likely stick around,” says Gittrich. “There will still be a lot of people, particularly Gen Z, that prefer to avoid that point of contact moving forward. We’ll continue to find ways to increase convenience for our customers in order to give them what they want, when they want it, the way they want it.”

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