Haven't been to a Casey's General Store yet? Here are 7 things you need to know
We all know the names of the pizza chains with the most stores in America: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Little Caesars Pizza, Papa John's, Casey's General Store Yup, that's right, if each of Casey's convenience stores serving made-to-order pizza were counted as restaurants, the Iowa-based chain would rank fifth.
While its pizza occasionally grabs national headlines, Casey's is the fourth largest convenience store chain in the United States with 46 Wisconsin locations. The Ankeny, Iowa-based company is continuing its push into Wisconsin, including recent store openings in Oshkosh, Menasha and Wautoma. Casey's has added 36 stores in Wisconsin since , and will add to that number Friday when the next Casey's opens in Blue Mounds.
If there isn't a Casey's in your town yet, but you come upon this convenience store during holiday travels across Wisconsin or a neighboring state, here are seven things to know.
It's a Midwestern, small town thing
There are more than 2, Casey's in 16 Midwestern states, though not every location serves pizza, bakery, subs and other hot foods. The first Casey's opened in in Boone, Iowa. The next store opened in Waukee, Iowa, a city with a population of 1,
Thriving in small towns is still a big part of the publicly traded company's business plan.
Today, more than half of the Casey's stores are in cities with population under 5, people. Fewer than 20% of locations are in cities with populations over 20,
Pizza makes Casey's famous beyond its regional borders
Food & Wine ranks Casey's sixth (out of 22) in its list of convenience stores serving the best food. In the magazine also published an article praising Casey's pizza.
If you're wondering, "How good can gas station pizza be?" That's a fair question. We've all seen the triangle boxes under heat lamps at a convenience store and wondered if they've been sitting there longer than that lonely hot dog spinning on the roller grill.
Each store's pizza is made fresh. The dough, made in store daily, is stretched to a Midwestern style or hand-tossed thickness. The sauce is balanced between sweet and spicy. The cheese is gooey.
Pizza toppings come in all the classic options (pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, etc.) and plenty of specialty choices like mac and cheese, barbecue beef and taco.
Breakfast pizzas start with cheese sauce or sausage gravy base and get topped with cheese, scrambled eggs and choice of meat (yes, that includes bacon) and veggies.
Doughnuts, bakery and coffee
Bakers arrive by 4 a.m. to fill the bakery case. The company's original cake doughnut is made from scratch in nearly all stores, says communications director Katie Petru. Bakers also ice doughnuts by hand, bake cookies, turnovers, raspberry cheese flips and cinnamon rolls in store every morning.
New to the case is a churro doughnut, a twisty ring dusted with cinnamon sugar and topped with a vanilla glaze drizzle.
Sub sandwiches are made to order
Sandwiches are made to order sub-shop style along an assembly line of bins holding meats, cheeses and veggies.
Casey's offers the expected options. White and wheat bread. Tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles and five other veggies. Five cheeses from American to Swiss. (Yes, that includes pepper jack.) Fifteen sub options including turkey club, meatball and Italian.
But there also a few wrinkles. Zesty Parmesan or jalapeno cheddar for the bun. Barbecue beef or barbecue chicken for the meat.
There's also a rotation of limited-time sandwiches like pastrami on a pretzel bun.
Multiple restaurant foods in one stop
Beyond the subs there is a sausage sandwich made with mild or hot sausage covered with marinara and mozzarella cheese served on a toasted hoagie bun. There's also a breaded pork sandwich served on a warm hamburger bun.
Burgers, wraps and salads are also on the menu.
It takes multiple video boards to list all the options including sides like cheesy breadsticks, chicken tenders and potato wedges.
Basically, everyone in a group with diverse tastes can find the food they are looking for.
When in doubt start with the favorites
Popular foods with Casey’s guests, Petru says, include the Italian sub, cake and glazed doughnuts, and pepperoni pizza. The breakfast and taco pizzas have a loyal fan base as well.
Petru says the sugar cookie should not be overlooked, "as the recipe includes the perfect hint of lemon."
Hours, ordering, and prices
Store hours and amenities vary by location.
All Casey's are convenience stores, so there's going to be coolers filled with bottled water, soft drinks and other beverages along with packaged foods like chips, candy and meal bars. Food services that vary by location include pizza, subs, bakery and soft serve ice cream.
Pizzas, subs and sandwiches can all be ordered in store. It takes about 10 minutes for a pizza to go from the time the dough is stretched in the pan to bubbly golden cheese emerging from the oven. Subs get assembled in a matter of minutes.
If that's too long a wait, pizza slices and hot sandwiches are usually available for grab-and-go options. There are also store made, ready-to-go sandwiches, wraps and salads in a cooler.
Otherwise, orders can be placed ahead of time through the Casey's app or on the company's website. Both the app and website will let you know which amenities are available at each store.
Prices for sandwich are mostly in the $4 to $7 range and whole pizzas are about $10 to $ However, Casey's is no stranger to running deals, specials and other promos so there's a good chance to find a food deal most times of the year.
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With a new chef on board, Casey's releases new breakfast menu, fresh ground coffee
For the first time, Casey's has a chef overseeing its menu — and he's ready to release new breakfast items out into the world.
The Ankeny-based convenience store chain on Wednesday launched a new lineup of breakfast foods, including bacon and egg croissants, breakfast burritos and mini sausage and queso calzone-like handhelds. It also installed coffee machines that grind beans for each cup sold at its more than 2, stores across the Midwest.
The new breakfast menu is the first offering out of Casey's test kitchen under the direction of Michelle Wickham, vice president of prepared foods, who was hired in April of She's been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, with past jobs at fast casual Mexican restaurant Qdoba, burger chain Red Robin and fast food corporation Yum! Brands.
Last year, Wickham recruited Farrokh Larijani, a chef out of Denver, Colorado, who formerly worked on Red Robin's menu, and Hannah Su, a former quality assurance executive with Starbucks for more than two decades.
More:Casey's completes $ million purchase of Nebraska-based Bucky's Convenience Stores
Larijani said developing menu items for a convenience store comes with a different set of challenges than a traditional restaurant.
"The product needs to be convenient for the guest and in order to deliver that to the guest every time, it needs to be bulletproof for the team members to do that," Larijani said. "At our footprint, 2, stores, the question is, 'How do we design it in here that it gets duplicated at every store level?'
"We’re really serious about our food program."
The highlight of the new menu, he said, is the breakfast calzone. The handheld item is created out of Casey's pizza dough, but Larijani said he didn't want to detract from the chain's famous breakfast pizza — so he worked to make a new experience for customers.
"It'll lend itself to the lunch crowd later on as a Mediterranean handheld, or a roasted chicken, something with beef. You can introduce different sauces and glazes," Larijani said.
The test kitchen is original to Casey’s Store Support Center in Ankeny, pumping out the chain's latest prepared food items since Casey's first jumped into the pizza business in the s. Casey's is now the fifth largest pizza chain business in the U.S., based on number of kitchens.
Wickham, Larijani and Su have been "playing around" in the test kitchen, hoping to capitalize on Casey's customers' loyalty to their pizza and other prepared items.
According to Casey's annual financial report released in April, in the last three years the gas station and convenience store chain's nonfuel sales have accounted for 72% of the brand's net sales revenue.
Wickham said Wednesday's breakfast launch is just the start of Casey's expanding its menu items.
More:Miss the Iowa State Fair? Here’s your second chance to try one of the most surprising new foods.
"I think the products are good enough to have a stand-alone store," she said. "We're working on things that are a year, year and a half away."
Katie Petru, spokesperson for Casey's, said the breakfast menu is the chain's biggest new innovation and marketing launch, but declined to say how much it invested.
“We really have this huge differentiator in fresh prepared food with kitchens in our stores," Petru said. "Stores that don't sell fuel are things that are in our portfolio, so the food and the walk-up dining is really central. I think this just allows us to hit on all those cylinders at an even next level."
In the last three years, Casey's has only continued to see its prepared foods revenue grow. According to the company's financial report, "prepared food items averaged approximately 61% (of the chain's gross margin) — substantially higher than the impact of retail sales of fuel, which averaged approximately 11%."
Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic restricted travel, the company's fuel sales were down $ million, while food and grocery sales remained nearly consistent from pre-pandemic sales.
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While Petru said Casey's isn't necessarily focused on the rise of electric vehicles and the possibility of replacing fuel sales, increasing quality and freshness of the company's prepared foods is a priority.
"Food will always be a huge priority and differentiator for Casey's," Petru said. "We would be doing this as planned, regardless of those external factors. This is for us to grow our business."
Hannah Rodriguez covers retail for the Register. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @byherodriguez.
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