For nearly 35 years, Barry Friends has been scheming new concepts for franchises. At least, that’s what his wife, Jennifer, says. He’s an idea guy—the kind of person who’s always pursuing the next big business venture. First it was the custard stand he wanted to open. Then it was a banana bread shop. Next, he suggested bringing a Dairy Queen to his community. Jennifer always humored him (she would be the one baking the banana bread, after all), but it wasn’t until they moved to Wisconsin and happened into a Toppers Pizza that the duo collectively agreed on a franchise they both felt good about.
Barry isn’t new to the restaurant industry. In fact, he’s experienced more of its inner-workings than a lot of people—namely, in food distribution. In the ‘80s, he began working with Sysco Food Services in Baraboo, Wisconsin. That job was the beginning of an upward climb, and by 1991, he joined Sysco Food Services of Pittsburgh as its president and CEO. US Foodservice was next, where he worked as president of the Minnesota division. His career then led him to Wisconsin, where he worked at Reinhart Foodservice as the corporate vice president of sales, merchandising and marketing.
It was after Barry and his family of seven moved to Wisconsin that their lives would really change—but for the better.
“We’re a heavy pizza-eating family. So when we visited a Toppers pizza for the first time, it turned into a family favorite. It’s a great product for a fair price. But it was more than just the food at Toppers—we loved their cheeky messaging and irreverent tone. They’re edgy, funny and fun,” Barry said. “My wife and I had always dreamed about having a restaurant franchise. One day, she turned to me and said, ‘If there is something I can get behind, it would be this.’”
Barry sent an email through Toppers’ franchise development website that very night. The next morning, a representative from the brand gave him a call to discuss their options. Barry and Jennifer decided to bring Toppers to their home state of Minnesota, and they signed on to a five-unit area development agreement for the western suburbs of Minneapolis. In doing so, Barry made the decision to leave behind his 35-year-old career in the corporate world.
“After spending more than three decades in the foodservice industry, I realized how much work restaurants could be. But I also realized how much I loved being a part of this industry. I was ready for a new career—something that I could build for our family and for the community,” Barry said. “I was impressed by Toppers’ growth potential. I was impressed by how they take a typical pizza concept and shake it up with creativity and a youthful personality.”
Today, their Toppers business is a family affair. At the time they decided to get into franchising, the economy was still in a state of recovery, and the younger generation was still weighed down by the burden of the downturn. Barry and Jennifer wanted to help. So when they signed on for five units in 2013, it was with the idea in mind that their children would help to run the system of stores. Their first location opened in 2014, and they had three of their daughters and one of their sons join the team.
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