EATING WELL: Founded in 2009, Providence-based Top This! Fire-Grilled Pizza Crusts produces about 3,000 crusts, or 125 cases a day. Above, company employee Pablo Tum at work.
PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
The business name Top This! Fire-Grilled Pizza Crusts is both a challenge to competitors and an invitation to consumers, owner Roger Dwyer says.
“Fire-grilled” is a distinguishing characteristic for how those handmade white and wheat crusts are cooked, according to Dwyer. He’s in his third career after decades spent in both the restaurant business and as a professor for wine-and-beverage-services classes at Johnson & Wales University.
Acknowledging national competition like Boboli’s and Pillsbury, Dwyer says the difference between other prepared pizza crusts and Top This! is the way the crusts are grilled.
“What makes these things really good are the flour and yeast, and the flavor from the grilling,” he said. “Each one is hand grilled on a charbroiler, the same thing you have on your deck. You get the flame from below and the grates are very hot. It caramelizes the sugar and that’s what gives it the flavor.”
The other selling point is more of an intangible: it’s the impetus on the part of the consumer to want to decorate the product in unique ways – making it, in Dwyer’s view, much like a painter’s canvas.
“It’s a blank canvas for people to show their creativity,” he said. “It’s inevitable for people to tell me what they put on it.”
As described on his website, Dwyer confirmed that his “aha!” moment for starting the business came in 2004 when he noticed Castiglione was freezing pre-grilled crusts and selling them later. He convinced Castiglione to partner with him. Together, they began building a robust business selling to the restaurant and food-service industry.
But Dwyer was convinced the product would sell in the business-to-consumer environment of retail grocery stores and supermarkets.
“We had a good deal of success with food service, but there was also some pushback from the buyer, because they were under pressure and sometimes we couldn’t compete price-wise,” he said. “I found that [people] wouldn’t object to the price … if we offered it as a retail product.”
While the two men have remained partners, their roles flipped, said Dwyer, who took over in 2008 as the major partner.
A package of two 13-inch, 7-ounce pizza crusts retails at $5.99 at most supermarkets in Rhode Island. Prices also are consistent in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and at one chain, Doris Markets, in Florida, he said, but are about a dollar higher in New York and New Jersey.