Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza, was recently named chairman of the National Restaurant Association’s new Pizzeria Industry Council, which was created to engage and address the concerns of pizza operators.
The council, modeled after the NRA’s Fast Casual Industry Council that was created in 2009, includes such other brands as Boston’s the Gourmet Pizza, Connie’s Pizza, Fresh Brothers Pizza, Fox’s Pizza Den, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Marco’s Pizza, Monical’s Pizza, Nancy’s Pizza, Papa Gino’s Pizzeria and Sbarro.
Elgin, Ill.-based Rosati’s Franchising Inc. has about 170 units, and the brand is expanding soon to such states as Texas.
Topliff talked with Nation’s Restaurant News about the council.
What do you see as your role as the chair of the pizzeria council?
The first word that comes to my head is “conduit.” My job, as I saw it when they asked me to do this, was to put together a group of pizza professionals that would be a good representation of the pizza industry. So I went out and sought members of the board that were like our pizza sizes: small, medium, large and extra large. That’s how the board was built. My job is to sit with these people that are really good at what they do and facilitate conversations and make sure that we build an agenda to really help the pizza community. We are a community.
What are the biggest challenges for the pizza segment?
One of the biggest challenges is that a lot of people get into the industry and don’t understand what’s involved. As a group we’ve decided to try to build an educational system for people entering the business to understand not only the pitfalls but the working operations of running a pizza business from start-up [to] when you’re mature and hit that wall and need a little more help. I think the biggest challenge is the lack of education and knowing where to go to find help.
What else is the segment facing?
Other challenges out there are the governmental issues like menu labeling, the federal wage hike and health insurance. Those are issues we’re trying to work through, and we’re working very closely with the NRA to take an active part in doing something about them.
Your council visited the White House recently. What was the result of that meeting?
We were sitting feet away from the Situation Room, talking to people who have an impact on the menu labeling situation. … They asked us about what our challenges were. I actually brought one of our menus and showed them how difficult it was for us to post it the way they were asking us to. We weren’t asking them to get rid of the law. We were just asking them to consider how they were asking us to implement the law and the difficulties we were going to have in getting 50,000 combinations of pizza on a menu board. We asked for some options and flexibility. Within days they were starting to work on amending the law.
What issues are specific to the pizza segment?
Commodities can be very damaging to pizza. The cheese market has been going crazy. It goes up and it goes down. Without cheese, we can’t make pizza. The council is going to look at putting together buying groups for smaller businesses. As a larger chain, I can do volume buying, but smaller chains or independents can’t.
The pizza segment has seen a lot of pricing deals.
There is crazy pricing out there. They’ve created a dilemma for us as far as discounting, to the point of putting the independents out of business. By putting together buying groups and trying to help some of the smaller chains in volume buying, we’re trying to help keep those smaller companies on the same level of the larger companies and not get priced out of the business.
What is your favorite pizza topping?
I am a traditionalist: thin crust with cheese and sausage. The thinner the better.
Not deep dish?
Chicago is known for deep dish, but people in Chicago really like their pizza thin and crispy, and they love their sausage. Pepperoni is the No. 1 topping nationally, but not in Chicago. We’ve run surveys, and they seem to love sausage on their pizza.