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UC co-ops contribute to creation of Little Caesars Pizza Portal

Greater Cincinnati company Apex Supply Chain Solutions turned to University of Cincinnati students for help designing first-ever heated, self-service pickup station

For years, Little Caesars’ “Hot-N-Ready” pizza was known for being the pizza business with the fastest carry-out product. With help from some University of Cincinnati design students, a Mason, Ohio, company designed and manufactured a device that makes it possible for the pizza chain’s customers to pick up their orders from one of its stores faster than ever before.

Woman holding pizza box stands in front of pizza warmer

Maggie Otten, DAAP '20, spent her co-op experience with Apex Supply Chain Solutions working on what would become the Little Caesars Pizza Portal. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

Little Caesars launched a national advertising campaign in September 2018 to herald the arrival of the Pizza Portal, the first heated, self-service mobile order pickup station in the fast-food industry. Developed and manufactured by Greater Cincinnati-based Apex Supply Chain Technologies, the Pizza Portal enables customers to pick up their prepaid order in as few as 30 seconds at a Little Caesars’ location using a three-digit PIN or QR code supplied by the company’s mobile app. The mobile app is Little Caesars’ first foray into online ordering, and it empowers customers to put together custom topping combinations — something the company had previously not permitted.

The Pizza Portal was well-received by the internet. Months after the ad campaign debuted, Twitter is still abuzz:

Chad Morgan, Apex mechanical designer, had the final say on design decisions for the project, but he was grateful to work alongside UC co-op students from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning’s industrial design program. After all, who knows more about pizza than college students?

“We love having new eyes on a project, because we see these things day in and day out,” says Morgan. “Our UC co-ops raise very interesting questions, things that we might not necessarily think about on a day-to-day basis.”

Little Caesars graphic of company mascot in front of pizza warmer. "Introducing Pizza Portal Pickup" text in upper right corner.

Industrial design student Maggie Otten didn’t let the fact that Apex was her first co-op employer stop her from making important contributions. Her concept sketch for the Pizza Portal’s user interface bears a striking similarity to that of the final product — and it’s no coincidence, Morgan confirmed.

Otten found that the experience had a lasting impact on her, as well. “I learned how to work with interdisciplinary teams — engineers, designers, marketers and clients — for the first time,” says Otten. “Co-op is awesome because it gives students a chance to try different things and see what they like and don’t like. They will know what type of industry they will be happy in after they graduate.”

Apex Director of Engineering Kevin Klueber, Eng ‘06, has been with the company less than a year, but his positive experiences with UC’s co-op programs go back more than a decade. Klueber himself was required to co-op while pursuing his mechanical engineering degree, and of the 24 engineers that worked for him at his previous employer, he says that fully half had co-oped at the company prior to being hired. He’d like to see Apex employ more UC co-ops as the company continues to grow. “It’s a great way to recruit and onboard talent,” Klueber says. “Co-oping is a win-win for employers and students.”

Featured Image: Maggie Otten, DAAP '20, poses in front of a Little Caesars Pizza Portal in the Apex Supply Chain Technologies Innovation Lab. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services


Concept sketches by Maggie Otten of possible user interfaces for the Pizza Portal.

Sketches by Maggie Otten of possibilities for the Pizza Portal's user interface. Provided

Experience counts

The University of Cincinnati is the birthplace of cooperative education, where students alternate time in the classroom with semesters of paid, professional work related directly to their majors – and earn a collective $66 million annually from more than 1,300 global employers. Despite the idea spreading to places of learning around the globe, UC is still leading the way more than a century later. Learn how you can earn while you learn by becoming a student in the nation’s largest mandatory co-op program.


Next Lives Here

UC is leading urban public universities into a new era of innovation and impact. The university is now pioneering a new paradigm for learning and working. Co-op 2.0 promises to create even more paid opportunities for UC students to learn by doing.