Little Caesars was founded in 1959 by husband and wife team Mike and Marian Ilitch in a suburban Detroit strip mall. What many fail to realize is just how new pizza was at that point. It wasn’t until after World War II that returning soldiers spoke of a snack food called pizza that was popular in Italy.
At the time, Mike Ilitch was a promising short stop on the Detroit Tigers farm team, but an injury forced him to re-focus his career path, which then honed in on pizza. The couple invested their entire life savings of $10,000 into that first location, and then turned to franchising to expand.
In recent years Little Caesars overtook Papa John’s to become not only the nation’s third largest pizza chain behind Pizza Hut and Domino’s, with $2.9 billion in sales and more than 3,673 stores, but also the fastest-growing pizza chain as well as the largest carry-out only pizza franchise.
The chain, whose corporate headquarters are located in the Fox Theatre building in downtown Detroit, holds all its numbers very close to the vest, making it difficult to obtain the latest data (Detroit Free Press).
Here are 7 must-read news stories about the Little Caesars franchise:
A Pizza in 30 Seconds? How is that Even Possible?
Little Caesars has scored big on a number of innovations over the years, from the first pizza conveyor oven (1977) to the first two-for-one pizza deal (which translated into the famous Pizza! Pizza! slogan in 1979) to the launch of their Hot-n-Ready offer in 2004 (LC Facebook milestones). The offer is this – pizzas are ready, hot out of the oven with no need to call ahead and no need to wait. And when you add in their special price of $5 for a large hot-n-ready pizza, it’s pretty hard to resist.
As one customer put it, “Went by Little Caesars drive thru last night. Ordered the three meat HOT-N-READY. The lady had it in her hand when I pulled up to the window. That’s faster service than McDonald’s or Wendys” (The Straight Dope).
It does make you wonder how it’s possible. The consensus opinion – very careful tracking of demand so that they have pizzas coming out as they’re needed. When you’ve been doing it since 1959, you really can get it down to a science.
As a franchisee, you have to pay a substantial amount back to corporate headquarters for advertising and marketing, so you want to know that your chain does a great job with those dollars. The Little Caesars franchise not only does a consistently great job with its advertising, they frequently hit bona fide home runs with their campaigns.
The company’s most recent grand slam was in September for its new hot-n-ready pretzel crust pizza. Although the ad itself wasn’t particularly different or quirky, it still hit home with millennials, achieving the most memorable ad among that demographic for the month of September 2014 (Advertising Age).
A Franchise on the Move
There’s no doubt that Little Caesars is making waves in the pizza industry. In fact, it won PMQ Pizza Magazine’s Pie Award for 2013. Not only does the magazine comb through sales and unit growth of dozens of pizza chains, it also looks at charitable giving and community engagement. Besides maintaining a great product that customers love, the company shows strong philanthropy through its youth programs, providing free food to people in need, and working with veterans.
And how many chains can say they were selling a large pizza in 1979 for $6.25 that now only costs customers $5? And somehow it manages to do all this with dough made fresh in-store daily, fresh-shredded real mozzarella cheese, and fresh-packed sauce that is not from concentrate. That’s a serious commitment to quality (PMQ Pizza Magazine).
Bringing Hot-N-Ready Pizza to the World
The Little Caesars franchise operates in at least two-dozen other countries besides the US. Its latest international move is into Australia. The new Casula location in western Sydney marks the chain’s entry into that country’s $3.5 billion pizza segment, which is projected to grow to $3.9 billion over the next 5 years.
The key to successful international franchising in Australia is planning for the higher labor and rental costs, two factors that sink many attempts (SmartCompany). The opening in Casula saw customers lining up to try, as well as the Little Caesars mascot handing out slices on the street, although at one point the arrival of the nearby McDonald’s Monopoly Man made for a somewhat tense situation (Daily Telegraph).
One country that’s not on the list is Italy, the birthplace of pizza, where Italians consume substantially more pizza than Americans, if you can believe that. Little Caesars does keep an eye on Italy, though, and will probably make the attempt at some point (CNBC).
The Little Caesars Love Kitchen
If you want to see corporate philanthropy in action, you need look no further than the Little Caesars Love Kitchen. Started in 1985, the love kitchen is a mobile pizza kitchen that shows up in soup kitchens and shelters all around the country to feed needy people who are hungry. One of the most frequent stories in the media that you’ll see about the Little Caesars franchise is what community the Love Kitchen is serving at the moment.
Launched in 1985, the Love Kitchen has served more than 2 million people in 48 states. Local Little Caesars franchise owners and company regional offices donate all food and labor costs for the Love Kitchen servings. An estimated 50,000 Little Caesars franchise owners and employees have volunteered their time over the years to support the program in their local communities (LC website).
Recent stops include Bluefield, WV (Bluefield Daily Telegraph), Charlottesville, NC (NewsPlex.com), Waynesboro, VA (Augusta Free Press), New Bern, NC (Sun Journal), and Burlington, NC (Times-News). And that’s just a few weeks of operations!
New on the Menu
Pretzel dough has become the latest food fad, and Little Caesars has jumped on the bandwagon by introducing its Soft Pretzel Crust Pizza. The pizza has generally been well received, so the chain is extending its limited time offer of the medium specialty Hot-n-Ready Soft Pretzel Crust Pizza from 4-8PM for $6 throughout October, which happens to be both National Pizza Month as well as National Pretzel Month (Digital Journal).
In another gutsy move, Little Caesars said, “Move over, Chicago, Detroit-style deep dish pizza is in the house.” The chain’s new Deep! Deep! Dish pizza is an even slightly higher-end pizza than the Soft Pretzel Crust Pizza, coming in at $8. The main distinction from Chicago-style is that it’s made in a square pan rather than a round one (Wall Street Journal).
In addition to the Love Kitchen, Little Caesars has a veterans program that provides franchise business opportunities to qualified, honorably discharged veterans transitioning to civilian life or seeking a career change. In 2000 the Ilitch family established its own foundation, Ilitch Charities, to fund innovative, collaborative, and measurable programs in the areas of community development, human services, education, and recreation. Finally, since 1968, the company has sponsored the Little Caesars AAA Hockey Club, which has given a great start to many young hockey players in the Detroit area, not to mention players that have gone on to the National Hockey League (LC website Community Relations).
Little Caesars received a nice round of publicity recently when famous comedian Bill Murray, during an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, mentioned that not only did he work at a Little Caesars in Illinois, he did so with celebrity “Rock and Roll Chef” Kerry Simon (People).
There was also a not-so-nice hit of publicity in the form of rumors that the Ilitches were planning to sell not only Little Caesars but also the sports franchises they own, including the Detroit Tigers baseball and Detroit Red Wings hockey teams. The rumors have since been denied by company spokespeople (The Detroit News). It would have been a surprising move given the recent groundbreaking for the new Red Wings arena, although that has been explicitly billed as the culmination of the Ilitches’ work in the city of Detroit (MLive).
It’s also worth noting that although Little Caesars just edged up from #4 to #3 among the big pizza chains, back in the 1990s it was solidly in the #2 position (Brand Eating).