Wednesday, Jul 26th

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“As more and more pizzas came out, I just couldn't put them in boxes fast enough. They were all over the kitchen – I was sort of like Lucy in the candy factory,” explained CEO Marla Topliff, of Rosati’s Pizza.“So it was kind of funny that they never let me work in the kitchen again after that.” In the beginning, Topliff didn't really need to learn pizza-making when she joined Rosati's. By doubling the number of restaurants the corporate exec has certainly proven she can raise the dough.

Ferdinand Rosati opened a restaurant in Chicago's famous Taylor Street area in the 1900's. “He used to put an appetizer on the table called pizza al'olio, and guests just loved it. It was flat, round bread with a little garlic, oil and some tomatoes on top – his idea of pizza,” said Topliff. When she started as Marketing Manager, besides family-operated stores, “Cooks and managers loved the business and the family so much, many asked if they could open a Rosati's. That's how our business grew.” The franchise was not in a branded position. By visiting every location, creating marketing and operations manuals, and coordinating logos and designs, Topliff unified the collection of pizza businesses into Rosati's Pizzas.

The economic downturn hurt, but pizza fared better than most. “If people can't afford go to a fine restaurant, they'll go for comfort food and pizza is comfort food.” During the slump, Rosati's lost some stores, but bounced back. By stabilizing prices and bundling family offers, customers could have an affordable family meal that was still a treat.

Rosati's hasn't stopped innovating, either. “We just added a chili cheese dog pizza – quite a sensation in Chicago. It really does taste exactly like a chili cheese hot dog you'd get on Chicago street corners. When we presented it to David Rosati, he asked, 'Do you really want me to eat a chili cheese dog pizza?' Then he took one bite of it and it went on the menu," Topliff remarked.

Goals include expanding into more states, using social media in every store, and developing a “13th month” of income through catering. Also working with a Canadian author, Erle Dardick on “Back to the Basics,” a restaurant industry documentary film, Topliff believes communication is really key to success. “I try to pick a few franchisees every day and call to ask how they're doing. I know every franchisee and their families – who they are and what's important to them,” Topliff said. “Good personal contact keeps a happy family.”

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