Little Caesars Looks to Conquer New York City

    The pizza chain wants to open hundreds of restaurants in the market, starting with a 10-unit deal with two experienced franchisees. 

    Little Caesars pepperoni pizza.
    Little Caesars
    Little Caesars believes its smaller footprint makes it a good candidate for New York City's heavy urban environment.

    Little Caesars is taking a bite out of the Big Apple—a rather big one, at that. 

    The company plans to open hundreds of restaurants in the New York metropolitan area over the next several years. 

    The first step of this aggressive development strategy was a recent 10-store agreement. Veteran multi-brand franchisees Suhel Ahmed and Saurabh Desai signed the deal to develop restaurants in the Bronx and upper Manhattan by 2026, with the first opening scheduled for late 2023. 

    Chief development officer Jeremy Vitaro says there are a couple of reasons why Little Caesars is targeting New York. The Tri-State area specifically and the Northeast generally represent the single largest area of less developed opportunity in the country. The chain’s labor-efficient operating model and small store layouts also work well in urban areas, where delivery and digital options have had the biggest impact on bringing in new customers. 

    Little Caesars launched third-party delivery in early 2020, right before the first wave of the pandemic. Five years ago it launched the Pizza Portal, which lets customers order ahead and pick up from a self-serve locker system. 

    “We believe the model resonates really well in high-density, high-traffic, on-the-go environments,” Vitaro says. “New York City has a very large number of trade areas that fit the bill. The opportunity has always been there, but I think what’s changed for us has been the integration of digital and delivery. The combination of consumers being able to order ahead and pick up through the Pizza Portal, or have it brought to them with home delivery, has benefited stores across the system and across the country, but it’s benefited stores in markets like New York in particular.” 

    Little Caesars is seeking to work with accomplished multi-unit franchisees, like Ahmed and Desai, to help grow its footprint. The pair has 40 years of combined restaurant experience. They own and operate dozens of franchise locations by other global quick-service chains throughout New York City. 

    READ MORE: In Volatile Times, Little Caesars Believes it's Equipped to Grow

    Key to attracting experienced franchisees from outside the system is demonstrating what sets Little Caesars apart, including its streamlined operating model and vertically integrated supply chain, which Vitaro says are helping the brand weather a challenging macroeconomic climate. 

    Communicating the size and strength of the brand is important, too. Little Caesars is the country’s third-largest pizza chain by unit count, a fact that some candidates are surprised to learn. That’s because the company is family-owned and keeps much of its business private. 

    “We haven’t tended to spend a lot of time talking about ourselves,” Vitaro says. “I think part of the challenge is getting folks to understand just how different our model is. We’re not just another pizza chain. In terms of the speed, the convenience, and the value, we’re well differentiated.” 

    He says there is a lot of expertise on the development team that will help the company grow throughout the New York metro. Recent additions include vice president of U.S. development Patrick Cunningham, former director of operations at Dunkin’ and senior director of franchising at Inspire Brands, who joined Little Caesars late last year. Basil Kazepis, vice president of real estate and construction, joined the company a year and a half ago after working with brands like Dunkin’ and Taco Bell in New York City. 

    Vitaro says Kazepis is “one of the strongest real estate executives in the New York area.”

    “We have a number of others with operating experience, real estate experience, and franchising expertise in the Northeast and in New York,” he says. “That’s giving candidates comfort that it’s a team with a lot of knowledge when it comes to succeeding in New York, which is a challenging operating market.”

    Along with the five boroughs, Little Caesars has multi-unit opportunities available with a three-store minimum agreement throughout Long Island, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Franchising investments range from $378,700 to $1,695,500, with incentive programs available for veterans and first responders.

    Beyond the Northeast, Little Caesars is aiming to grow its footprint in the Pacific Northwest and in underdeveloped cities across the country. 

    “We’ve got significant DMAs where we still have a limited presence,” Vitaro says, pointing to Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City as examples. “Some of that opportunity will be going into different areas of the cities that we previously haven’t penetrated. With digital and delivery, we can expand the brand and be more successful in places that we haven’t gone into in earlier phases of development.”