The New York City market is not only back—it’s alive and thriving.

That’s the message Little Caesars VP of development Patrick Cunningham sends prospective operators. Franchisees have bought into the hype, both in a literal and figurative sense. This year, the pizza chain opened two locations in the Bronx thanks to franchisees Suhel Ahmed and Saurabh Desai. The restaurateurs, with more than 40 years of experience combined, signed a 10-unit deal to open stores in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan by 2026. Last year, Little Caesars inked a deal with multi-brand operator Ron Valencia, who opened his first store in Queens.

“It’s always hard to look at it side by side from pre-pandemic to today,” Cunningham says. “But I really think as you walk around the streets of New York, whether it’s Manhattan or any of the boroughs, it looks very much like it did pre-pandemic. From a consumer standpoint, the demand is there. Not only the willingness or the desire for food to be delivered but also being outside, walking to restaurants, and fast, convenient service. That’s everything our brand supplies. So our Hot and Ready pizzas are ready when our consumers walk in the door. They’re made with high-quality fresh ingredients, and it’s what the consumers want. We have anything they want ready for them.”

Although New York is known for its own style of pizza, Cunningham is confident in Little Caesars gaining its fair share in the trade area. His optimism comes from the chain’s three pillars—quality, value, and convenience—which are not just goals, but integral parts of its identity. He believes the brand’s affordability is unmatched, as well as its well-known Hot and Ready pizzas. “How many times can you go into any type of pizza restaurant and have a pepperoni or cheese pizza hot and ready waiting there for you when you walk in without having even ordered it beforehand?” Cunningham says. He also points out the brand’s Pizza Portal pickup, which is the first heated, self-service mobile order pickup station in the restaurant industry. If not interested in trekking out to the store, Little Caesars is on delivery apps as well.

The brand previously said it’s committed to establishing 100 new locations in New York City and the tri-state region.  

“I think we are absolutely prepared to thrive in this market,” Cunningham says.

He recognizes opportunity for the Little Caesars brand not only in the New York metro market but also in surrounding areas. There is a high demand for good pizza options and high traffic, particularly in underserved areas ranging from the five boroughs to northern New Jersey and Connecticut. The pizza giant sees whitespace throughout the region and has made it a priority to focus on the Northeast over the past few years. But growth isn’t restricted to that one corner of the country. The Pacific Northwest, specifically the Seattle and Portland markets, is high on the list. Little Caesars also sees room in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and it’s seeking franchisees in the Carolinas, Ohio, and the Denver and Colorado Springs markets. While the company already has franchisees and open restaurants in these areas, the chain hopes to deepen its market penetration.

Little Caesars, with more than 4,000 restaurants nationwide, is the third-largest pizza chain in America. It trails only Domino’s and Pizza Hut. In April, the chain announced multi-unit development agreements to open 30-plus restaurants in San Diego; Memphis; Tampa; Raleigh, North Carolina; Minneapolis-St. Paul; San Antonio; and Eugene, Oregon. In November 2023, it announced expansion in Boston and Chicago, with franchisees Pritpal Bains and Haranchal Bains, who have operated stores in California since 1999 and will open five new units in Boston, and Karim Khowaja and Sanjeev Khatau, who bought two locations in Chicagoland and will debut an additional 10 stores in the city.

The chain recently unveiled its POD store design program to open more real estate availability. The POD units are built off-site, which allows all permitting to be completed at the manufacturing facility rather than onsite. These modular units are then delivered and require a smaller parcel of property compared to traditional buildings. Each POD includes a drive-thru window and a walk-up window. Little Caesars thinks these locations can succeed in various trade areas, not just specific markets. While there isn’t a significant decrease in overall build-out costs, there is a noticeable stabilization, which is a relief from the rapid increases seen post-pandemic, Cunningham says. Now, there is a clearer understanding of expected construction and contractor expenses when starting a project.

“We’re constantly trying to value engineer,” Cunningham says. “Always looking at our building, always looking at our footprint, looking at our equipment, trying to figure out how we can continue to have that great product, that quality, that value, that convenience, but also streamline the operations to make the restaurant less costly to build out. … The ability to build out a restaurant at the speed of maybe we could have done it pre-pandemic, I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think we’re getting there at this point.”

The type of franchise agreement Little Caesars offers depends on the opportunity in the market and the franchisee. Ensuring that these elements align is crucial for finding the right fit that works for both sides. There are no set parameters, but typically, the sweet spot in many markets is around three to five units. However, there are trade areas where an operator might establish up to eight to 10 units if it benefits both parties.

Like any franchise, Little Caesars is always looking for entrepreneurs who understand the franchise business and know how to operate within it. These restaurateurs should have experience managing multiple units, although it doesn’t need to be as extensive as managing 50 or 100 locations. Multi-unit retail experience is preferred. Additionally, there is a need for smaller franchises, particularly those who can penetrate a small town effectively because they know the market well. These candidates might operate just one restaurant, but they should have experience in quick service, retail, or management.

Franchising, Growth, Pizza, Story, Web Exclusives, Little Caesars