Little Caesars pizza restaurants in the Kansas City area have closed again, idling employees as the owners battle corporate headquarters in federal court.
The local franchise group that once totaled 21 Little Caesars restaurants saw several close — at least temporarily — in December. The local list has since shrunk to nine stores, not counting stores in Topeka and Leavenworth.
The corporation and couple who own the franchises — Alan and Beverly Knox of Utah — have been in litigation over various disputes, including the Knoxes charging $5.99 instead of the nationally advertised $5 for Hot-N-Ready pizzas.
Improvised signs on the doors of two area stores advised customers Tuesday that the closings were temporary. The signs offered no indication of when the stores would reopen.
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Calls to all area Little Caesars restaurants either went unanswered or were disconnected when a reporter identified himself. An attorney representing the Knoxes said he could not comment.
Employees said stores closed as they ran out of ingredients because food supply trucks stopped coming. Also, they said, ingredients were shuttled from some stores to keep other stores open longer. The employees asked not to be identified to avoid jeopardizing their jobs.
Although ingredients shortages effectively shuttered the restaurants, a federal court in Michigan has ordered them closed.
U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith issued the order on July 11 after granting Little Caesars Enterprises Inc. a preliminary injunction against the Knoxes, who have operated their shops as franchises from Little Caesars Enterprises.
Little Caesars terminated the couple’s franchises, but the couple has continued operating some stores, according to Goldsmith.
Goldsmith’s July edict also ordered the Knoxes to remove any signs, counter panels, window banners, product descriptions on menu boards and other appearances of each store to “dissociate the location from the Little Caesars system” as well as return manuals and other confidential documents related to running a Little Caesars restaurant.
Two weeks later, Alan Knox filed a “compliance report” with the federal court in Michigan. It said the Kansas City-area operations had ordered food and had settlement talks with Little Caesars.
The couple also were in talks to sell the Kansas City-area stores to four potential buyers, Alan Knox’s report said. His report identified four stores, but only by store number, that were slated to close by the end of August. It said one Topeka store was to close by July 31.
Knox’s report triggered an immediate response from Little Caesars. It’s court filing said the company did not agree to let the stores stay open as the two sides talked.
“Little Caesars wants to make clear that it did not give its approval to what defendants apparently plan to do, and that it did nothing that even could have been interpreted in any way as acquiescing in defendants’ failure to comply with the court’s July 11 order,” the company’s objection said.