Nick's Pizza and the $50,000 Email: Guest

We all like to talk about honesty and transparency. But when things get tough, how honest should we really be? Is honesty always good business?

I faced this question in a big way last week. My business, Nick's Pizza & Pub, is going through a dire financial crisis. Feeling defeated, faced with the prospect of shutting operations in a little over a month, I decided to open up to our guests and team. I wrote an email, spelling out the mess we were in and taking full responsibility for bad decisions I'd made. I wasn't asking for handouts, just stating that now was as good a time as any to come eat at Nick's.

I was so nervous when I clicked that "send" button. Most businesses try to hide their shortcomings, and here I was, broadcasting them. I wondered if I was I about to make a huge mistake. But my team of 200 was behind me, and I sent the email.

Good thing. The email went out at 3 p.m. on Tuesday to our list of 16,000 frequent guests. By 3:30 p.m., it had gone viral. Over the next couple of days, our phone was ringing off the hook with people expressing their desire to help. We received hundreds of emails of support. By week's end, our sales were double what they had been the previous week -- a $50,000 increase in each of our two restaurants. Our financial crisis is easing.

I'm not claiming that honesty in a crisis will necessarily generate a $50,000 cash infusion. The results we saw were the culmination of 16 years spent embracing honesty, and more broadly, organizing our business around purpose and values. Instead of spending money on advertising, we gave back to our local communities and the families that are in them. We established Nick's as a business that meant well and that people could trust. Only on account of I am now able to swallow hard and ask for help with the knowledge that I won't be turned away.

I'm glad that I followed my heart on this one and believed in the humanity that flourishes in our communities here. Maybe my story offers hope for businesses everywhere to look hard at how being honest and transparent can be a healthy, sustaining business model.

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, 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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