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Little Caesars pizza chain plans national expansion

DETROIT (AP) _ Little Caesars is looking for a few good franchisees.

The carryout pizza chain announced Tuesday that it plans to add hundreds of stores around the country this year, reversing a shrinkage that has reduced the number of stores from 5,000 in the early 1990s to 2,000 today.

Privately held Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. said it aims to recruit hundreds of new franchisees over the next several years. Franchisees typically own more than one store.

The company said it hopes to expand in Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

``Little Caesars has experienced five consecutive years of significant sales increases, and we plan to continue this trend by focusing on what works for us: providing a convenient, high-quality product with great value for low cost,'' Little Caesar Enterprises President David Scrivano said in a statement.

Scrivano, who became president last year, said the company is ready to push into the Northeast. There are no Little Caesars stores in Philadelphia and a handful in New York City and New Jersey. It also seeks growth in the Atlanta area, which now has five Little Caesars outlets ``but could support 100,'' he said.

The Chicago-based food industry research company Technomic Inc. estimated that Little Caesars' 2004 sales totaled $1.2 billion. It is the nation's No. 4 pizza seller behind the Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's chains.

Little Caesar Enterprises recently has increased its downtown Detroit headquarters staff by about 10 percent and has hired franchise licensing advisers and other managers in preparation for the expansion.

Little Caesars franchise operator Vicki Dunn-Marshall now has 16 stores in West Virginia, southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky and said she plans to add four stores.

``Sales are on the upswing,'' Dunn-Marshall told the Detroit Free Press. ``People are looking for value when money is tight.''

Little Caesars owners Mike and Marian Ilitch founded the company as a single restaurant in Garden City in 1959. In addition to the pizza chain and related food distribution businesses, the Ilitches own the Detroit Red Wings hockey team; baseball's Detroit Tigers; MotorCity Casino, one of Detroit's three gambling venues; and the city's historic Fox Theatre, which the Ilitches restored and turned into one of the region's premiere entertainment venues.
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