DALLAS -- After a near four-year absence, Little Caesars is returning to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the Detroit-based chain closed 47 company-owned pizzerias in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1999, virtually ending its presence there.

That closing was part of a mass closing, in which the company shuttered 382 corporate stores in one fell swoop on July 21 of that year.

"Unfortunately, in 1999, we lost the market," said Michael Scruggs, senior vice president of global operations for the Detroit-based chain.

Now, however, the company appears to be on the rebound. Following the 2001 settlement of a long-running lawsuit filed against the company by its franchisees, it has engineered a solid turnaround by improving product quality, service and renovating stores.

"We focused on making sure we're putting out the best product we can," Scruggs said. "We switched our cheese to fresh shredded as opposed to frozen. We focused on toppings to make sure we were selling the best possible pizza we could."

The company has virtually stopped marketing nationally and instead focused its advertising on regional efforts. North Texas is one market seeing some action, and in 2002, Little Caesars stores opened in Denton, Farmers Branch and Fort Worth. Units in Carrollton and Seagoville opened this spring.

According to the Morning News, Little Caesars is happy with its improvements, but it's not focusing on moving past Papa John's to reclaim its spot as the nation's third-largest pizza chain.

"Our goal isn't to be the No. 3, No. 2 or No. 1," Scruggs said. "We're just doing what we do best, which is putting out a great pie."

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