Purdue HTM alumnus earns Top Menu Innovator honor for Azzip Pizza

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Niemeier and his brother accept their Top Menu Innovator award from Pizza Marketplace

Niemeier (second from left) accepts the Top Menu Innovator award from Pizza Marketplace.(Photo provided/Pizza Marketplace)

Brad Niemeier stands in an Azzip Pizza location holding pizza boxes

Brad Niemeier(Photo provided)

Brad Niemeier, Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences alumnus, former Purdue football player and founder of Azzip Pizza, recently was recognized as the Top Menu Innovator in Pizza Marketplace’s list of 100 Top Movers and Shakers. Since launching the business less than two years after his 2012 graduation from the White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM), Niemeier has grown Azzip Pizza to 10 locations, with the 11th opening in Indianapolis this summer.

“(This award) is validation that even though we kind of started in Evansville, Indiana, that we belong with those other companies, and we have something to add to the culinary scene,” Niemeier said.

One of the innovations Niemeier credits with making Azzip Pizza a standout for the award is its unique Pizza of the Month creations, brainstormed by the team and refined by Azzip Pizza chef Blake Kollker. The most popular monthly pizza is the March Crabness pizza, a crab Rangoon-style option that plays off a March Madness theme. Sales from the pizza make up roughly 30% of total pizza sales each March.

“It has developed a little bit of a life of its own,” Niemeier said. “People are asking about it in January. They have countdowns. We have people that went to one of our stores on the first of the month, and there was a line of like 20 people an hour ahead of (opening) time, just to be one of the first in line to get it for the year. That’s been really fun watching that grow and seeing the popularity of that.”

As part of the Pizza of the Month program, Niemeier also introduced a subscription where customers can purchase a year’s worth of the monthly pizza specials and save 30% as well as get a T-shirt and special coupons. This program has allowed Azzip Pizza to gain a following from returning customers.

“We had over 600 members in it this year, and so it was a really cool program to be able to do that and see the loyalty of our customers to shell out that bigger chunk up front and then be able to come back all year,” Niemeier said.

As Niemeier has seen his business grow significantly in less than a decade, he said his Purdue roots have continued his innovative mindset as he navigates new locations, processes and menu expansion.

Azzip Pizza's March Crabness pizza

The crab Rangoon-style March Crabness pizza makes up roughly 30% of total pizza sales each March.(Photo provided)

“When I was back at Purdue, I started making pizzas out of my kitchen there,” Niemeier said. “I would have teammates from the football team over, and I’d make up a bunch of pizzas, and even back then, they were fun ingredients. Ryan Kerrigan was a teammate of mine, and he loved chili, and so one time, when he came over for one of the nights, I made a chili corndog pizza, which sounds really weird. I cut up the corndogs like pepperoni slices. It’s just always been that kind of stuff for me.”

While Niemeier often applied what he learned beyond the classroom, he ultimately credits the versatility of the hospitality and tourism management major, which he paired with Purdue’s entrepreneurship and innovation certificate, with setting him up for success in business development.

“The HTM program was very well-rounded,” Niemeier said. “You didn’t just see one side of the business or the industry. Even things like the equipment class and kitchen design with Dr. (Carl) Behnke (associate professor of hospitality and tourism management) was one of those that stuck with me because when I was laying out my kitchen, I was able to do a lot of that myself. When I was trying to figure out how much staff I would need or being able to write a schedule, having those skills early on was really beneficial.”

Beyond kitchen development, Niemeier noted that Associate Professor Sandra Sydnor’s business planning course helped him understand how to develop a successful business plan, and her mentorship has carried with him throughout his career, as they have remained in touch.

“(HTM) gave me the confidence to go and actually try to do it, instead of just thinking about it, and so I think that was a huge part of that startup,” Niemeier said.

Ceridwyn King, professor and White Lodging Services Head in HTM, said Niemeier’s success with Azzip Pizza and his experience in the major reflects the school’s ability to energize students and help them follow their passions.

“I think it really speaks to our desire for all our HTM grads, that wherever they decide to go, they’re always going to be changemakers, and they’ll be recognized for that,” King said. “We’re providing students a really strong foundation but also giving them opportunities to learn and grow and draw on their own strengths.”

Niemeier’s business has now come full circle with a Lafayette location, where Purdue students can get a taste of what Boilermaker success looks like through Azzip Pizza. Niemeier said he appreciates being able to pave the way for other hospitality and tourism management students’ innovation and creativity.

“I think trying to encourage others to make those leaps when they can is something that’s awesome, so having a location there has really allowed me to come up much more often and be more connected,” Niemeier said.

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