By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — Rockford's steadily expanding business climate has caught the attention of a popular Michigan pizza chain.
Cottage Inn Pizza has a 65-year history, and has included Rockford as a top priority for its five-location Midwest expansion officials say will be solidified by the end of the year.
"Our pizza is a mainstay of both college students and families in Michigan, and now we’re ready to bring our brand over the border to pizza lovers in Rockford,” said Cottage Inn Vice President Debbie Masse said.
Masse has not decided on a location but said the city's efforts to rebuild and attract more college students and young professionals makes Rockford a prime location for expansion.
"When people think of Cottage Inn, they think of being back in college, having a special treat with their parents as a child or celebrating a win with their sports team,” Masse said.
And while it is headquarted outside of Rockford, Masse said each of the company's more than 50 stores in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Qingdao, China, are active local merchants, partnering with local charities as part of Cottage Inn's giveback program.
The franchise program is stringent, with owners paying between $200,000 and $350,000 for a store.
"Rockford continues to show signs that we are moving in the right direction," Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg said. "Here is another company from the outside looking at establishing a presence here. I'll take businesses like this right along with the Mercyhealth deal."
Tuneberg said when companies like Cottage Inn choose cities like Rockford, it eases the burden placed on residential property owners to provide a viable tax base.
"We can't tax our way out of things," Tuneberg said. "We have to grow our way out. And here we could have a franchisee willing to put his money where (their) mouth is and invest here to make Rockford a better place."
Known for its proprietary crust, Cottage Inn is primarily a takeout restaurant with 33 styles of pizza, salad, wings and sub sandwiches. Some locations offer inside dining and all-you-can eat pizza buffets. The restaurant also offers a gluten-free menu, catering service and Build Your Own Pizza selections.
"We’re already Michigan’s favorite gourmet pizza restaurant, and now we’re looking forward to making our brand the go-to option for customers in Rockford and beyond," Masse added.
Cottage Inn restaurant was founded in 1948 as a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1959, it became the first restaurant in the city to serve pizza. Still run by the same family, the flagship location is still open and remains a mainstay among students at the University of Michigan. The company rolled out its franchisee model in 2014. R.