How Nick’s Pizza & Pub’s Community Stepped up to the Plate

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It’s a Wonderful Life.

Referencing that 1946 movie to explain what we have gone through here at Nick’s Pizza & Pub might seem corny, but after the “$50,000 e-mail,” I continue to hear our guests in the restaurant pull me aside and ask me if I have seen this classic movie, for good reason.

Of course, in Hollywood, the movie ends and everyone goes off to live happily ever after. In real-world business, it’s a little more complicated than that.

We had a phenomenal guest turnout for the five weeks after I sent that email, an honest and transparent request to the community to support us in our time of need. On one level, we made it with this huge support from diners throughout Chicagoland getting us over the financial hump. We made payroll, and we were able to get current again with all of our vendors.

Then sales started to dip again, which is okay -- heck, we are not the only ones struggling in this economy. But if sales permanently returned to these low levels, our mortgage was still out of line.

Typically in the full-service restaurant business, occupancy cost (rent plus taxes) should be in the 8 percent range, and with our debt structure, we were around 12 to 15 percent depending on sales figures. We needed to restructure, or all the community support would be for nothing.

Again, the intangibles of business values and the worth of giving back to the community as part of our bottom line (also known as a triple bottom line), showed up in full force.

The financial council I had at my side who helped me create the most effective win-win plan for us was a frequent guest named Jim (who could be a stand-in for Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life). Jim was one of the hundreds of dedicated fans who responded to our email and offered support, free of charge. When we sat down with our bank to work out negotiations, the executives mentioned the pressure they were getting from their own employees, board members and customers -- all fans of what Nick’s Pizza & Pub stands for in the community -- to help us through this. With their encouragement and Jim’s financial expertise, we had an agreement with our bank on the 23rd of December, just in time.

The happy ending to this story is we made it, and Nick’s Pizza & Pub is here to stay as a part of the community. And we did in true Nick’s fashion, an unconventional way. Now we can continue to be the company we are, using our values as our guide in the decision-making process at every level of the organization, bringing our purpose to life every day in every moment.

As the founder and CEO of the sixth busiest independent pizza company in per-store sales in the United States, Nick Sarillo of Nick’s Pizza & Pub has garnered national media attention for the impetus behind his business’ success—an inventive, purpose- and values-driven approach to training and leadership. Under Sarillo’s direction, Nick’s Pizza & Pub, located in Crystal Lake and Elgin, IL, boasts an 80 percent employee retention rate in an industry in which the average annual turnover is close to 150 percent. Sarillo’s forthcoming book (Portfolio, 2012) will highlight his “on purpose” principles for building an inspiring, high-performance organization from the bottom up. For more on his business philosophy, visit

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