By Ron Allen, NBC News Correspondent
Nick's Pizza is an Illinois eatery where families bring the kids, and you can throw the peanut shells on the floor. When Nick's announced it was facing foreclosure, the community rallied to save the beloved pizzeria. NBC's Ron Allen reports.
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. – Nick Sarillo was a carpenter who dreamed of owning a restaurant. So, he built one from the ground up and, of course, called it Nick's.
That was about 16 years ago. It's a warm fun-filled place, with a game room for the kids, lots of stuffed birds and other creatures oddly hanging from the rafters, peanut shells covering the floor, and lots of thin-crust pizza that's actually quite good to eat.
However, these days most customers aren't coming for the food. They are showing up for Nick and his team of about 200 employees. That's because Sarillo was staring foreclosure in the face.
Sarillo is a real go-getter, who expanded his business a few years back when times were good. He hired more people and opened a second restaurant, expecting the community, and its appetite for pizza, to keep growing.
The recession and rampant foreclosures stopped all of that. And it left Sarillo drowning in debt, with a lot of pizza on his hands.
Sarillo says he did everything possible to keep the ship sailing but ran out of options, except for one.
He wrote an impassioned email to his customers, about 16,000 of them. Basically, he admitted he screwed up, didn't cut back soon enough, didn't have a big enough rainy day fund, didn't anticipate how bad the economy would get.
Finally, he pleaded: "SO MY FINAL REQUEST NOW IS FOR EACH OF YOU TO COME TO NICK'S NOW AND TELL AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO COME NOW!" using capital letters and an exclamation point to make sure everyone knew how serious he was.
Well, that email went viral, and touched a lot of hearts. And when you look around the restaurant these days, it looks like most of the folks who got that email, and their friends and neighbors, showed up!
It certainly didn't hurt that Sarillo had donated thousands and thousands of dollars over the years to just about every local organization you can name, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, local schools, Little League baseball teams… the list and the plaques in Nick's lobby go on and on.
So, to some extent Sarillo was just getting back a lot of what he'd already given.
That email doubled the number of customers for the week. Sarillo was able to pay his staff, and his bank. Even a little 4-year-old girl named Harper Kenney gave Sarillo five quarters from her piggy bank.
Sarillo says he is safely on the road out of red ink, for now.
Perhaps the moral of the story is: You get back what you give. Make great pizza, and let your customers leave the peanut shells on the floor.
If you wish to help Nick's, click here.
This is the message Nick Sarillo posted on Facebook, asking for help:
An Uncertain Future:
I have never understood why owners or management of a failing company usually don't give others close to the company-especially customers-fair warning about what is going on. In many instances, the team, the core family that built the business, has showed up to work and found the doors locked. I have always said I would never do that to the people I truly care about and owe my life to.
I realize that posting something like this here on FB is risky and unorthodox, but I don't care because I don't have anything to fear or hide. We run our business with totally open books, and the core team that shows up to our weekly fiscal huddles will not be surprised by what I'm writing. I truly care about our team and each guest that has blessed us by choosing to eat at Nick's instead of any of the many other places available to them.
As of the beginning of this last week, the hard reality facing us has become glaringly apparent to me. We overbuilt and overspent, and then we didn't cut fast enough or hard enough when sales started to go downhill. The issue is primarily with our Elgin restaurant, but because we are one company, the failure of Elgin will likely impact Crystal Lake as well, depending on the choices our bank makes. This failure is not the fault of our team members; on the contrary, I am extremely grateful to them for their incredible contributions, including accepting salary cuts, taking on more responsibilities, and volunteering to market us on their own time. The whole responsibility for our troubles is mine for making the bad decisions that got us into this mess.
I realize that many of you out there see a busy restaurant and don't understand how we cannot be profitable, or as many of you have expressed, how we could not be "rolling in cash." We do bring in a lot of revenue, but unfortunately that is not enough to cover our mortgage and the other expenses that accrue from having such large facilities. In 2008, sales at our Elgin location began to drop, causing that location to lose money. Fortunately, Crystal Lake was profitable enough to cover both restaurants most of the time. As of this year, that's no longer true. The sales drop in Elgin alone has been 30% since last year and close to 50% since 2007, thanks largely to the bad economy and road construction.
We thought that the opening of a new Walmart across the street from Elgin on October 26th would bring enough new traffic to save that location and our company. Unfortunately, the bills that we have been pushing back this year are catching up with us now, about four weeks short of the finish line. Barring some sort of miracle, we are going to run out of cash to pay our vendors and team members over the next couple of weeks and will have to close. Believe me, I have already tried everything possible and would not be writing this if the amount we needed was not many thousands of dollars more than I personally could come up with. I really did believe we were going to make it to the finish line and pull through this, but I have nothing left that I can sell, pawn, or promise-just my business, which now is on the table.
I do have one last hope for me and the 200 team members of Nick's. If within these next four weeks we could see a large increase in sales at either of our restaurants, we could still pull through. SO MY FINAL REQUEST IS FOR EACH OF YOU TO COME TO NICK'S NOW AND TELL AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO COME NOW! Even if you don't wish to see us survive and continue to be a part of the community, then at least come to say good-bye. If you wish to contact me with investor ideas or any ideas or questions at all, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call me at 815-356-5557, or simply stop by and talk in person.
Thank you- Nick Sarillo.