- “With the younger generation, I feel like we are all entrepreneurs,” says Kaitlynn Caster, the 24-year-old owner of a Pizza Guys franchise location in Davis, California.
- Young employees are already tech-savvy and innovative and will rise to to any challenge with proper training, Caster believes.
Kaitlynn Caster isn’t the first former Pizza Guys employee to open her own store. But as the chain’s youngest franchisee, she’s something of a trailblazer for Gen Z women in the pizza restaurant franchise business. She started out working for her dad, who currently owns two Pizza Guys stores in Woodland and Dixon, California, while she was still a child. She loved it. She was really good at it. You might even say she was born for the job. She became a shift leader at 16. And when she realized college life just didn’t shake her tree, she returned to the family business at 18 and finally launched her own Pizza Guys store in Davis, California, last November.
Did we say “finally”? Caster is only 24.
Pizza has been largely an older man’s game for decades, but the future belongs to millennials and Gen Z—and younger women like Caster are stepping up to claim their rightful place in the industry. She runs a team of people her own age or close to it; she speaks their language, knows how to motivate them, how to listen to them—and how to lead them. We asked Caster about her journey to becoming a Pizza Guys franchisee, and here’s what she told us:
PMQ: Why did you choose to get into the pizza business?
Caster: When I decided to start my career path, the main reason that drew me into Pizza Guys was the continuous success. Being around this business my entire life, I was able to see the different adjustments and changes that were made to better the company. I also was drawn into the success of pizza itself. Who doesn’t love pizza? Pizza is not only a comfort food but a social food that brings families, friends and people together to enjoy. Having the opportunity to create something that brings joy to people is something I can see myself doing as a career.
PMQ: Tell us about your experiences working for your dad. You were pretty young to be a shift leader. What was that like for you?
Caster: Working for my dad was definitely a new experience; he had to switch from the role of dad to boss in many situations. I’m very grateful to have my dad as my boss to teach me to be a hard worker at such a young age. I had the advantage of being around this business for so long that, when it came to me turning 16, I excelled in the position.
When I was younger, I used to be so excited to help at the trailer events that he would put on at the fair and local football games. I loved passing out the pizza through the window. The first location he owned was a dine-in, and I would enjoy making my own personal pizza and playing the video games he had in the lobby at the time. I never took into consideration, until later on, that his footsteps were something I enjoyed walking in. Being around his genuine love for the job made me want to work just as hard, whether or not I was planning on this being my future.
PMQ: Why did you decide the college life wasn’t for you?
Caster: After graduating high school, I decided to go to college in San Francisco. I spent a lot of hours working a job in the city and studying while I could. Then, there was a reality check for me; I realized that I was working more than I was actually going to school. I was doing all my work hands-on versus having my head in the books. My parents were very understanding when I told them I wanted to move back home, and that’s when my dad offered to let me work for him as a career. He reassured me that both my mom and he would support me in any decision I made—I am forever grateful for that. So I decided to take that leap and move back home and continue my work at Pizza Guys at 18 years old.
PMQ: Tell us about your journey to becoming a Pizza Guys franchise owner. What incentivized you to own your own shop, and what kind of obstacles did you face?
Caster: My journey to becoming a franchisee was a very fast, educational experience. My dad always told me, “When the time is right, it will happen,” and it did. I went through many obstacles throughout my career prior to becoming an owner. One of the many challenges was being everyone’s boss at such a young age, let alone the “owner’s daughter.” Eventually, I gained confidence by building my own crew as a manager. This helped show me that, with each challenge I face in this career, I always move forward and find a solution. It then became easy for me to build confidence as a leader and make authoritative decisions.
The greatest challenge of all—the one that had the highest impact, to say the least—was COVID-19. Having to focus on the higher safety of our staff and customers while being an essential worker during a lockdown was the biggest obstacle of all. Pizza Guys became busier than ever due to already offering delivery and curbside.
PMQ: As a 24-year-old, you’ve taken on a huge responsibility. What’s your average day like?
Caster: An average day for me is consistently keeping contact with my managers and crew, overseeing the business side of the job as far as labor, sales, marketing and hiring, and making sure we are communicating well with our crew and providing the quality of pizzas and service we promise. I try to keep myself most involved inside the store as much as I can and keep great relationships with my staff. I feel like the most important part of my job is to ensure the product we sell keeps our customers happy.
In addition, I want our crew to enjoy coming to work to have fun. I have always had a love for art, so, whenever I’m on the make-line, it’s very fun for me to make different types of pizzas and treat it like a piece of artwork. That’s one of my favorite things to do on a day-to-day basis that makes my job fulfilling.
PMQ: Older restaurant owners often complain that some young people can be difficult to manage, whether because of their busy day-to-day lives or, supposedly, lack of a work ethic. Do you think that’s true, or is it a misconception?
Caster: Being young myself, I find it easy to relate to the younger generation of employees and get on their level. I try to be the boss and owner that I would want to work for. As time goes on, things change in the world that have an impact on business, such as the advances in technology that make it very user-friendly at the store level. I find that younger employees adapt to training faster and more efficiently being around the upcoming technology and the internet.
As far as work ethic for a younger employee, if you provide all the tools they need to succeed at the job and train them efficiently, you can watch them reach goals and continue to get better. I have had plenty of employees who came to Pizza Guys for their first job and watched them grow into hard-working employees. It depends on how you train and educate them in the process; you can help build their work ethic.
PMQ: When it comes to managing young people, what kind of advice would you offer an older restaurateur? What do they need to understand about your generation?
Caster: My advice would be to trust the process. With the younger generation, I feel like we are all entrepreneurs. We consistently bring new ideas to the table that the older generation of restaurant owners might not think of. So keeping an open mind, as an owner, manager or boss, is the key to success with this group. I have learned a lot from my team members and working by their side. Having meetings and taking in new ideas to implement makes the morale of the store that much better. Hear out your employees and learn from them.
PMQ: For a younger person who dreams of owning their own pizza franchise, what advice would you give them?
Caster: When the time is right, it will happen. You will go through obstacles that will benefit you in the future. It’s a learning process, and anyone can be a successful franchisee if you keep pushing through the motions. If you give it your all, you can watch yourself grow into a business owner and educate yourself at the same time. Hands-on learning is something I am extremely thankful to have done—that way I can see every angle of the business.
Ask questions, take notes, brainstorm, and think, “How can we make this better?” Put yourself in different shoes at the store level while also taking a step back and making decisions based on what you would do if it was your business.
PMQ: You own one Pizza Guys location now. What’s your next step, and what’s your long-term plan or goal?
Caster: The goal for me is to own more locations and help expand Pizza Guys into a bigger, more successful business. I would enjoy being a franchisee with different locations and different crews in different communities. I enjoy seeing this business going into new cities and becoming successful, so I want to be a part of that for the rest of my life. I will be a Pizza Girl forever!
Rick Hynum is PMQ’s editor in chief.