Back in the 90s, Little Caesars was known for its "Pizza! Pizza!" tagline.
Food & Drink Restaurants

Little Caesars: A lesson on knowing when to leave and when to come back

After two decades away, the pizza place that could comes back to the Philippines ready to cut another slice of the local market.
Angelo Dionora | Jan 29 2019

The phrase “Pizza! Pizza!” sparks a lot of good memories for many of us. The tagline takes us back to the 1990s when we’d bond with family and friends over Little Caesars’ buy-one-take-one pizzas. Who doesn’t remember those HOT-N-READY slices, topped with melted mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, and generous slices of pepperoni served in 30 seconds or less?

In those days, while pizza giants Shakey’s and Pizza Hut ruled the market, Little Caesars was that renegade pizza joint, whose relatively small number of outlets was outweighed by its big reputation. Founded in 1959 in Michigan, Little Caesars rose to become the number three top pizza chain in the United States, but somehow always retained its “indie” underdog vibe.

A cult favorite here more than a decade ago, the food chain charmed with cartoonish logos and campaigns.

With its quirky, off-beat campaigns, cartoonish logo, and even more cartoonish product names (there’s Pizza! Pizza!, Deep! Deep!, ExtraMostBestest—you get the idea), Little Caesars never seemed to take itself too seriously. But more importantly, the menu items were always seriously good—the pizza crust chewy with a bit of crisp, the toppings generous, and the garlicky Crazy Bread with pizza sauce dip truly addicting!

That’s what made Little Caesars’ quiet departure in the early 2000s extra sad. It was always a fun alternative to the usual suspects. Now that the chain is back, sparking joy among its nostalgic patrons, it does raise the question: why did Little Caesars leave in the first place, and what made it decide to return?

People may think that fiercer competition led to the brand’s departure. A quick survey of pizza’s recent history in the country may suggest this. Pizza Hut started its delivery service in 1989, and opened its first dedicated delivery and carryout (DELCO) units the following year. Greenwich’s rapid expansion began in 1994 when Jollibee Foods Corporation bought 80 percent of the pizza chain’s shares. Yellow Cab joined the party in 2001, offering New York-inspired tastes and aesthetics. In 2004, Shakey’s partnered with Sports Vision to launch one of the pioneering volleyball competitions in the country, the Shakey’s V-League.

It's almost about finding partnerships that work says Little Caesars' Paula Vissing, here with Palm Tree Investment Group president Roselle Calixihan.

However, Paula Vissing, senior vice President of Little Caesars’ international business, dismisses this claim. While she admits that the local pizza landscape is cutthroat, it wasn’t anything about the Philippines or the market at that time that led to their departure. She explains, “We’re a franchise business. For this setup to succeed, we need to establish good relationships with our franchisees.” She admits, “Unfortunately, the last time we were here, the partnership we had with the local team was not working well for both parties involved.”

Thankfully, Little Caesars found a new local partner, Palmtree PH Foods Corp. While it took some time for their paths to cross, Vissing believes that the wait was worth it. Now that the brand is back in the country, she explains that it is crucial for Little Caesars Philippines to serve experiences that are like, or even better than, people’s memories of the brand. “Many have told me in great detail how they remember the taste of our pizza. Of course, we want them to come in our store and taste the same, if not better, flavors.”

With even tougher market conditions today, is Little Caesars doing things differently now? Vissing says that they are sticking to the same commitment to quality. “We still make our dough by hand every day, and we source our tomatoes from California. We still aim to serve hot and fresh pizza as quickly as possible. These are things that will never change across all our franchises globally.”

Little Caesars opens—or re-opens—its first store in United Nations Avenue in Manila.

In its first Philippine branch located at the corner of UN Avenue and Alhambra Street in Ermita, Little Caesars brings back the HOT-N-READY pizza—available in 30 seconds or less—and its classic breadstick-sauce combo, the Crazy Bread & Sauce. More side dishes and other pizza variants are also available.

Little Caesars’ re-launch marks the global debut of the #PizzaPizza giving program, where customers can fill out a gift certificate to send a free pizza to a loved one. In return, the sender gets a single-serve pizza for their participation. The promo runs January 27 to February 1, 2019. Looking ahead, Vissing notes that they will be opening more branches in Manila between now and the end of the year. “We’ve always said that something good happens whenever pizza is around. That’s what we aim to deliver as we grow and re-establish Little Caesars in the country.” – with additional insights from Nana Ozaeta

 

The first branch is at Unit 4, Ground Floor, UN Ave Corner of Alhambra St, Ermita

Manila. For more information, visit their website.