DETROIT -- Just in time for Veterans Day, Mike Ilitch, Little Caesars' founder, plans to launch a program that would make it easier for American veterans to open their own pizza businesses.
The Little Caesars Veterans Program offers a reduction on the franchise fee, credit on the first equipment order and financing. The offer is even better for disabled veterans, who would have the entire $20,000 franchise fee waived for their first store.
Honorably discharged veterans will receive up to $10,000 in benefits toward starting a Little Caesars franchise. Service-disabled veterans are eligible for up to $68,000 for starting a franchise. A typical Little Caesars store costs $175,000 to $300,000 to build and equip, said David Scrivano, Little Caesars president.
The Detroit-based Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. plans to announce the program tomorrow, Veterans Day. It is the company's way of providing business opportunities for veterans who are making the transition to civilian life.
"Our founder Michael Ilitch, a former Marine himself, strongly believes in giving back and helping others," Scrivano said. "We looked at programs offered to veterans. We wanted to create a program that was a step up, but mostly to give back to those who served our country, who were honorably discharged, and give them a career."
Ilitch first helped an Iraq war veteran last year to open a Little Caesars franchise in Kentucky. The store is expected to open early next year.
Now, Rick Loz, 42, of Allentown, Pa., who served in the Air Force from 1988 to 1996, is the new program's first participant. He was training Wednesday at the Little Caesars in West Bloomfield, Mich., and so far has learned how to knead and spread the pizza dough and load it with toppings.
"Making a good-quality pizza is not as easy as it looks," Loz said.
By the time his six-week training stint is over, he will know everything about running a Little Caesars restaurant, from keeping the books to knowing when to order more cheese. And he will return to Allentown to start looking for a location for his store with help from Little Caesars' real estate department. He hopes to open one next summer.
Loz said he started researching franchises nine months ago and just lucked out in his timing with Little Caesars because the company had just decided to launch the veterans program.
Since leaving the military, Loz has worked as a project manager for AT&T Inc. and for a semiconductor company.
"I was at a point where I wanted to build something for myself," he said. "I think the military training is very applicable here. You have to develop a team and work as a team."
Scrivano said the company has opportunities in all parts of the country, but there are five markets it is focusing on as part of its expansion this year: Philadelphia, Boston, northern New Jersey, Atlanta and St. Louis.
Terry Hill, spokesman for the International Franchise Association, which created the VetFran program during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, said more companies are reaching out to veterans.
He said that from 2002 to October 2006, the program sold 612 franchises, and it has 229 participating companies including Cinnabon, Maid Brigade and the UPS Store.
Little Caesars is the nation's fourth-largest pizza chain behind Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's. It has about 2,000 restaurants and an estimated $1.2 billion in annual sales.