The untold truth of CiCis

It's kind of like potato chips. You'll never be able to eat just one — slice of pizza that is. Some may have the willpower to pass up seconds when it comes to that crispy crust, melted cheese and perfectly portioned toppings, but for the majority of pizza lovers, that isn't the case. Seconds turn into thirds and maybe even more. Wouldn't it be nice to find a place of no judgement? One where you could scarf down as many slices of pizza as desired without anyone looking at you funny? Lucky for you, there is such a place. 

CiCis was born in Plano, Texas back in 1985, but if it wasn't for the perseverance of its founder, Cicis may never have come to fruition. Cicis is now a dine-in phenomenon where families can enjoy endless pizza and multiple combinations of toppings for just one low price. With more than 450 locations in 32 states across the country, people can eat their pizza loving hearts out. Even pizza, though, doesn't come without its share of gossip. CiCis has seen some ups and downs since it's inception, and we're spilling all the beans (or tomatoes in this case) here. Keep reading for the untold truth of CiCis.

CiCis went through a big rebranding

In 2015 Cicis fans saw major changes. First and foremost would be the renaming of the brand to not include the word pizza. How could the renowned company, said to have invented the unlimited buffet, no longer have pizza? That's not it at all. By changing from Cici's Pizza, to simply "Cicis," they're just acknowledging that they have a lot more to offer than a slice of pie. They also offer salad, soups, pastas, wings, desserts — and even a game room — and they don't want you to forget that.

"Cicis believes that differences are what make life most flavorful, so the new brand positioning underscores our promise to empower individuals through the freedom of the buffet to find the tastes they love," said Sarah McAloon, Cicis Chief Marketing Officer. Along with the new name, Cicis also unveiled a new abstract logo, which is comprised of different colored shapes coming together to form something that looks, somewhat, like a pizza.

Changes had actually started the year before, when the chain announced a revamped salad bar and higher quality ingredients. The rebranding culminated in 2016 with an entirely new look for the restaurants, including a new color pallete to match their logo, new seating, and an upgraded layout and buffet design that makes everything from the food to the games more accessible.

Cicis founder sold the company to become a family man

Raise your hand if you wish you could retire before the age of 50. If your hand is up, you'll be quite envious of Cicis founder Joe Croce. Croce opened the first CiCis back in 1985. After 18 years spearheading CiCis growth, he decided it was time to walk away for something more important at home. "I will be leaving CiCis," Croce said in a news release, "to become a full-time husband and father to my young family." At the time, Croce's daughter was 6, his son was 3, and he was the ripe age of 44.

That is why, in 2003, with 420 stores operating in 20 states, Cicis changed hands. In almost two decades of Croce's leadership he had developed friendships and built a successful buffet model. To honor both, there was only one group Croce felt was worthy of taking over. That was his executive team whom combined had over 45 years of experience within Cicis empire. 

In order to keep the focus of Cicis on expansion and not bogged down by debt, Croce sold Cicis at an undisclosed, but notably low dollar amount. Even though he was able to retire before the dreaded midlife crisis, Croce may not be off the hook completely as executive team member Joe Flanigan says that Croce will, "always be an invaluable asset that we'll look not to be steered by, but to get his perspective."

Cicis founder Joe Croce is all about giving

When Cicis founder Joe Croce decided it was time to serve up the pizza chain to someone else, he did so with care by turning down offers from chain buyers and outsiders, eventually handing over the goods at an extremely low price to a team he had known for years. Yes, you read that right. Croce said no to the green and yes to a trustworthy team. Why? The answer is simple. Croce cared more about what Cicis stood for than the money he would walk away with. If you spent almost 20 years working hard to build something wouldn't you want to make sure it wasn't going to be run into the ground? Not to mention even after giving Cicis away at the already low sale price, Croce went on to donate 20 percent of his earnings from the sale to his church in South Lake, Texas.

Franchise owner George Brown says that Croce was known to spend his hard earned money for the benefit of others even prior to the sale of Cicis. During his ownership, Croce would help franchise hopefuls by lending them money as payment to open their own CiCis. Brown was included in that list. At the time Brown was a technician at a repair company serving hardware at a Cicis store, with visions of owning a Cicis himself. "That man loaned me — a married father of four making $35,000 a year — $146,000," Brown says. "It was a handshake deal."

If your favorite topping combo isn't on the buffet, CiCis will make it for you

With more than a dozen varieties of pizza on the buffet at CiCis it's hard to not find something to love, but CiCis custom-ordering program makes sure there truly is a pizza for everyone. Guests looking to bite into their favorite pizza combination can rest assured that if they can't find it on the buffet, CiCis will make it for them — in a personal size meant just for them. 

Pizza lovers can choose a traditional or flatbread option add their choice of sauce and pick up to four toppings to add onto their personal pizza for no extra cost to the buffet price. Once the order is in they'll be given a pager to let them know as soon as the order is ready. The personal pizza is still part of CiCis famous buffet, so guests can still enjoy unlimited salad, dessert and more pizza. Don't get too excited though because the unlimited pizza is actually limited to just one customizable pizza per customer. If you want seconds, you'll have to choose from choices already on the buffet.

Buffet items at Cicis might not be as fresh as you think

CiCis says that their buffet is a place you'll find pizza "hot 'n' fresh right out of the oven," but after a few failed health inspections, is that really the truth? In Lincoln, Nebraska a CiCis was cited for 13 different violations. Some of those violations included too low of temperatures and items sitting out on the buffet for far longer than customers probably care to know.

At another location, this time in Georgia, a CiCis was cited during a health inspection for not noting the times they were placing pizzas out on the buffet. This location too was cited for temperatures being too low, specifically for the pizza sauce. All violations at the Georgia location were fixed onsite during the inspection, but does that mean they'll continue to stick to code once the inspector isn't staring down the restaurant's throat?

The funny thing about the timing of the inspections is that both restaurant violations came after CiCis was said to have implemented electronic timers on the buffet line. These timers are supposed to flash yellow indicating when it's time to remove the pizza from the buffet and replace with a fresh one, leaving no excuse for a violation. Although all CiCis restaurants are individually owned, it's hard not to judge all by the actions of some, so you may want to take a good long look at the items on the buffet next time you're filling up your plate — or ask an employee how long they've been there. 

It really is all fun and games at CiCis

CiCis has been recognized as a kid-friendly restaurant and it's not just because it has an array of different food options for picky eaters. CiCis also prepares for those who need the food and entertainment combo on a family night out, or a place for kids to escape while parents enjoy some adult time. That's why CiCis has a game room

From air hockey to arcade games and even a few where you can win some prizes, CiCis is making their restaurants more than a place to eat, but also to have a little fun. Before you find your lips stained and fingers with pizza sauce, grab some tokens and play some arcade games. Then after your dessert of cinnamon rolls, play a little air hockey to round out the night. Some Cicis locations even have a few coin operated toys to ride, for little ones not quite ready to bring their A game to the arcade.

Multiple CiCis stores were victims of a security breach

The next time you head into a CiCis, you may have to watch more than just your white shirt when it comes to the unlimited pizza restaurant. In fact, you may want to pay in cash. In 2016, Cicis fell victim to a data breach that affected at least 135 restaurants across the country. Most of the breach took place in March 2016, but Cicis admits that customers as far back as 2015 could've been effected by the breach.

Hackers had tricked employees into installing card-stealing software at the affected stores and when customers were swiping credit cards at the register data was captured. The number of credit cards affected during the beach were upwards of 600,000. How does a hacker trick someone into causing such mass chaos? Security expert Brian Krebs says that cyber criminals, "simply call up the establishments and pose as tech support technicians for various POS vendors." Another crazy thing about the data breach is that credit card information wasn't the only thing stolen. By installing malware, hackers were also able to read any important notes left by employees during shift changes. 

CiCis is not the only chain to fall victim to a malware attack like this. 41 million customers were affected due to a Target data breach. After Target, Home Depot fell victim to the largest point-of-sale hack of all time. 56 million credit cards were affected during that breach.

CiCis claims to have invented the pizza buffet

To think that if Joe Croce followed his degree and not his passion, Cicis and possibly the unlimited pizza buffet may not exist. Croce graduated college with an accounting degree, but after jumping into a job as an accountant, he realized his real passion was pizza. At the time pizza places were either carry out or delivery and though Joe loved how pizza brought joy to people's lives, he felt that with the current pizza model something was missing. 

That's when he made the decision to stand out from the crowd and launch a sit down restaurant with a buffet. Alas, in 1985 Cicis was born and to this day it is their belief that they are the inventors of the unlimited pizza buffet. With over 450 restaurants across the country they sure are a strong contender, but are they truly the ones who invented the unlimited pizza buffet concept?

The only other national pizza chain that might be able to challenge Cicis unlimited buffet is Pizza Hut and they didn't roll out their unlimited buffet until 1992. That's almost a decade after Croce opened his first restaurant in Plano, Texas. To throw more fuel into the coal fire, when Pizza Hut did launch the buffet, it was lunch only, not an all day, open-to-close buffet like Cicis, giving them pretty good reason to believe we should thank them for the unlimited pizza buffet idea.

CiCis unlimited buffet might have its limits

CiCis claims to have invented the unlimited pizza buffet which apparently also means they make up the rules for it too. Be careful if you walk into a CiCis with a hearty appetite. You may be asked to leave if they feel you've exceeded your "unlimited" number of pizza slices. 

One CiCis customer talks all about the experience in an IGN forum post saying that after 40 minutes and an almost unbelievable 52 slices of pizza consumed, they were asked to leave. The post goes on to say that the manager had informed them that they had exceeded the amount of food they were allowed to eat.

A Reddit user had a similar experience when they too sat down for the unlimited pizza buffet. About 45 minutes and 22 pizza slices later, they said the manager of that store asked them to leave, saying the max amount of food they were allowed to eat had also been exceeded. Although the thought of ingesting 52 slices of pizza may be nauseating (if not nearly impossible), does CiCis have a right to put a limit on an unlimited buffet? If someone wants to eat themselves into a food coma, doesn't all-you-can-eat allow for that?

There is a yearly CiCis pizza challenge

If you're a pizza lover looking for a way to make a little extra money, it may be time to sign up for CiCis Pizza Challenge. Grab a friend, scrounge up $50 and make sure you go hungry because you won't reap the reward without eating an extremely large pizza. To take part in CiCis Pizza Challenge teams must eat every bit of a 28-inch pizza and down two 32-ounce drinks in under an hour. Pizza lovers from across all CiCis location compete against each other and the team who completes the challenge the fastest not only goes home with a stomach full of pizza, but a grand prize of $2,500. 

The 2019 Cicis Pizza Challenge pitted 36 teams against each other. Out of 36, only six were able to scarf down every bite and they all did it in less than 30 minutes. The fastest challenge team, hailing from Chicago, named themselves the Glutton Force Five. They downed an entire 28-inch pizza in an impressive seven minutes and and 25 seconds. 

CiCis helps bring jobs to veterans

Most of CiCis restaurants are franchised and thanks to CiCis Patriot Program, veterans are getting a chance to join in on the front line of the business world. Cicis launched their Patriot Program in 2012 allowing extensive savings to qualified U.S. veterans interested in franchising Cicis. Chief Operating Officer Bill Spae says the program was launched as a way to "express our gratitude and deepen our brand's commitment to veterans."

Through CiCis Patriot Program veterans pay no franchise fee and in addition, during the first year the restaurant is open veteran franchise owners also receive a 50 percent royalty fee reduction. Keep applauding because veteran assistance from CiCis doesn't stop there. Cicis continues to create more jobs for qualified veterans by requiring that at least one restaurant manager of a veteran-owned restaurant is also an honorably discharged veteran. 

George Cox is a franchisee for a Cicis in Coachella, California and says that as a veteran he is "proud to be a part of a company that is dedicated to helping more veterans succeed in the civilian and business community." Cox doesn't feel that owning a franchise is too far off from his military days. He says the "strong leadership skills and work ethic" that came from his military training have helped make for a smooth transition. It's no surprise that the same year that the Patriot Program was introduced, Cicis was recognized as a Military Friendly Franchise by G.I. Jobs.

The largest CiCis in the world is located in Branson, Missouri

If you've never been to Branson, Missouri, CiCis may just be the perfect excuse to make a trip. Branson's 13,000 square foot restaurant is CiCis largest ever. The Missouri location hosts a 40-foot buffet with an expansive eating area that seats 391 pizza lovers at one time. In addition to the massive seating area the Branson CiCis also has two party rooms, what they call a "ready-to-go" pizza area and a $1 million game room

You may lose yourself, or at least track of time, as you make your way through 5,000 square feet of fun. Are you guilty of donating what could've been your college fund in quarters to claw machines? Well, get ready, because at the Branson Cicis it looks like you'll be doing it again. With several to choose from, they can get addicting. If you tire from raising and lowering the claw arm, head on over and roll your luck in the even more classic game of Skee-Ball or take a chance at racking up tickets on games that will win you prizes.

The next time you're heading down to Branson's 76 strip to enjoy the famous Navy Pier 15 story ferris wheel, adventure resort, rope courses and coasters, you'll know where to stop for an energy boost.