Chasing Dreams, One Pizza at a Time

Ordering Toppers on any given night is an ordinary occurrence for many students, but for two alumni, Toppers Pizza turned into a lifestyle.

During their time at the University Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Joe Kirschling and Aaron Johnson, two college friends and roommates who graduated in 2001 and 2003, respectively, lived off of Toppers.

“Every weekend and often during the week we would order Toppers,” Johnson said. “You knew you were having a good time when Toppers was there because Toppers brought the party. Usually good things happen when you’re having Toppers.”

When they weren’t eating pizza, they worked their way through UWSP’s business administration and economics programs and had multiple conversations about becoming business partners in the future.

After graduation, the duo parted ways but remained friends and spoke frequently.

Late one night while the pair were talking on the telephone, Kirschling had ordered a pizza from Toppers.

Conversation erupted and memories began to flood from eating Toppers back in college, and that’s when it hit them; why not open a Toppers of their own?

Little did they know, a silly late night phone call for a pizza would lead to the first steps of opening Toppers Pizza in Appleton, which they did in February 2008.

Soon after, they expanded to their two locations in Green Bay and are currently in the process of opening a store in DePere in the beginning of 2014.

The two commented on how their experiences at UWSP helped lead them to their success today.

“I had a professor, Gary Mullins, who teaches from real world situations and I appreciated that because I didn’t have many other professors that did that,” Kirschling said.

Mullins, the Associate Dean and Head of the School of Business and Economics, bases his classes on his own experiences from working in the business industry for 15 years.

“I looked at my own experiences and said ‘what things had I wished I’d known when I’d graduated’ and incorporated that into my classes,” Mullins said.

Although many students prefer reading the textbook and getting straight forward answers, Mullins leaves many of his questions open- ended.

“Business is tough; the real world is tough; so I teach off of experiences I’ve experienced in real life,” Mullins said. “Good students will remember things from their courses, but great students will learn how to apply those things to real life.”

As two former UWSP students, their idea of entrepreneurship wasn’t an oddity. Approximately 100 students graduate from the business administration program each year, many of whom aspire to own their own businesses.

“Everybody seems to think they want to be in business, but many people are not cut out to be a self- starter and quite frankly you end up working harder because you can’t just punch out at five o’clock if there are things to do,” Kirschling said.

“It’s not a cakewalk,” Johnson said. “When we first opened we were there 70-80 plus hours a week. It’s a lot of work and dedication.”

They both agree, however, that the hard work pays off and that the rewards are certainly worth it.

“It’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s really nice to know that you’re out there doing something that you love to do and enjoy doing,” Johnson said.

Kirschling’s biggest piece of advice for students looking into entrepreneurship is to talk to other people who are successful.

“Wherever you are and whatever situation you are in, try to talk to someone who has been there. It’s not necessarily what they did right, but what they did wrong and try to learn from their mistakes,” Kirschling said.

The two also emphasized being prepared for the unexpected.

“Take account of everything that is going on around you,” Johnson said. “You never know when something will come in handy that you picked up along the way.

With a strong business model in hand, they look to the future and how they can expand their business.

“Our plan is to open five stores total, we currently have three and one is under the works. Hopefully the fifth one by the summer of 2015,” Kirschling said.​

Emma St. Aubin

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