SOUTHERN UTAH — Fast food. It’s something that is often taken for granted as being always in the background of everyday life. If you need to feed your family or a group of people fast, it is there, but otherwise it isn’t something most people have on the forefront of their minds.
But some fast food places are inextricably woven into the fabric of the community because of the people behind the food and the things they do – not only to make the dining experience better but also the neighborhood.
Meet Wes Swaney, the franchisee for all Southern Utah-area Little Caesars Pizza restaurants. Swaney has been involved with the international pizza chain for 29 years, he said, adding that it all began with a tragedy.
In January 1989 when the dike at Quail Creek Reservoir failed, Swaney, who was working at the time for Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bakery, met Little Caesars franchisee Alan Knox while out bringing food to the people whose homes had been flooded.
“We were both down there and they put us on the back of the same truck,” Swaney said. “He (Knox) was handing out pizza, and I was handing out corn bread and vegetable beef soup.”
Swaney and the Knox formed a friendship, he said, adding that he went to work for him shortly after he opened his second Little Caesars location.
“We expanded to over 60 stores in seven different states over the years,” Swaney said.
Just over a year and a half ago, the opportunity arose for Swaney to buy the Southern Utah stores from Knox, which includes five stores open currently and one store that will be opening soon at a location by Desert Hills High School. Current locations are as follows:
- Cedar City; 96 N. Main St.
- Hurricane; 310 W. State St.
- Washington City; 875 W. Red Cliffs Drive.
- St. George; 702 E. 700 South.
- St. George; 1973 W. Sunset Blvd.
Caring for those within the company and out in the community
When it comes down to what has kept Swaney going for almost three decades, he said it’s the people.
“The customers, the community, my neighbors and the team that I get to work with, that’s always been the best part about it,” he said. “We get to be involved in feeding people and their families. It’s rewarding to be able to be the pizza guy and to make people smile.”
To that end, he has been heavily involved in giving back to the community and helping those in need through the Little Caesars brand.
Some of the many community events in which the Southern Utah Little Caesars stores have been involved include the “Farm Field Days” held at Staheli Family Farm for fourth-grade students, KONY Country’s “4th of July Celebration” at Trailblazer Stadium, sponsorship of high school sports and school reading programs and assistance for area families in need.
While some events are seen by the public, most of the things they do are behind the scenes.
“We don’t necessarily want to be on the big stage,” Swaney said. “But it is a wonderful community to be in. It is easy to embrace events. It’s easy to find people who need a little help and try to do things for as many as we can.”
This kind of community involvement directly aligns with Little Caesars Pizza’s giving philosophy. In 1985 the chain started the The Little Caesars Love Kitchen, which provides hot pizza to the hungry and homeless, as well as disaster survivors across the country, an event Little Caesars has hosted in Southern Utah on many occasions.
The chain also supports veterans programs and other charities.
Swaney said he likes to give back to his employees as well. Recently they had an employee party where they gave away prizes such as a cruise, a trip to Disneyland, concert tickets, movie passes and gift cards to reward their employees for all the work they do.
It was something Swaney said he loved being able to do for the people who make Little Caesars what it is in Southern Utah, many of whom have been with the company for a long time. The average tenure of their management team is over 15 years, he said. And the company has employed generations of family members who all love the work culture they have found there.
Alicia Warren, the franchise’s office manager has been with the company for 20 years.
“It’s an incredible place to work,” Warren said. “I encourage anyone to come and work for us and see what we’re all about.”
In May, Swaney and many members of the management team went to the Little Caesars franchise convention held in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Swaney was presented with the Be A Hero award.
The award recognizes the franchisee who exemplifies the values and culture of Little Caesars while going above and beyond to make their customers’ and employees’ lives easier.
The award came as a total surprise to Swaney, he said.
“They were very complimentary,” Swaney said. “It was humbling because there are thousands of franchisees.”
The easiest way to pizza
Little Caesars has been voted “best value in America” for over 10 years running, Swaney said. Now the pizza chain hopes to gain another accolade: the easiest way to get pizza.
This year, Little Caesars is rolling out their new Pizza Portal, the first heated, self-service mobile order pick-up station in the quick service restaurant industry.
The Southern Utah stores were the first in the state to install Pizza Portals, Swaney said.
Customers who want the most direct and quickest way to get their food can order on a mobile device through the Little Caesars app, pre-pay for their pizza and receive an alert with a code when their order is ready. The customer can then go into the Little Caesars location to a state-of-the-art, automated self-service hot-holding portal, punch in their code and walk out with their order.
This new portal limits the time spent in the store to a matter of seconds, Swaney said, and helps customers have a more convenient transaction.
Though the Pizza Portal removes most human interaction from the ordering process, Swaney said, it does not take away any jobs, but makes the transaction more efficient.
The Little Caesars app is free for Apple and Android phones and can be found through their respective app stores.
Customers can also order pizza online or through the app and pick it up in the store or at the drive through, as well as set their favorite or nearest pizza location.
“We’re always trying to make it easier for the customer,” Swaney said. “I know how busy people’s lives can be.”
Little Caesars makes their dough fresh in the store each day. They use real mozzarella and Muenster cheese and high-quality fresh ingredients in all their offerings, Swaney said.
“We love our customers. We love the people who have supported us over the decades,” he said. “We want to continue to make an impact in the community and help people enjoy something that they have to do everyday.”
Written by HOLLIE REINA, St. George News.
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