When the economy had grown so sour that it seemed impossible to keep the doors open, Illinois-based pizza concept Nick’s Pizza & Pub looked for help from the people who possibly had the most invested in the company: its customers.

This was the case last week, when owner and founder Nick Sarillo realized his two units, in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Illinois, were on the brink of closing. Sarillo and his team of 200 employees sent a letter to dedicated fans announcing the potential close, and already have received an outpouring of support.

Sarillo says sales have doubled in the last week, and the company already has raised 34 percent of its immediate financial goals. He credits the support to Nick’s involvement in the community, which includes fundraisers and other charitable events.

“I guess the guests have been paying attention and it’s important to them,” Sarillo says, adding that many customers have recounted stories of the brand’s significance in their lives to servers and other employees this past week.

“It’s interesting because the guests are sending a strong message in our community about how having a value-centered business is really important to them.”

Nick’s had offered customers recession-busting promotions the last few years, including an employee-devised deal in 2008 that offered half-priced pizzas on Mondays and Tuesdays for two years. But he says the company will need to figure out a balance for its promotions while it works to get back in the black.

He says he will also not cut back on staff or training, because those components have largely put the brand where it is today.

“I would challenge any restaurant company to handle the increase as well as we did, because we had those systems and training already so engrained in our culture,” he says. “I believe it was one of the strengths for us to be able to recover from the tough times and then handle the great times that just happened.”

Sarillo says that when the mortgages and debt were first structured for his stores, it took into account economic growth that has since vanished. But the last week’s success has shown that the brand is “on the right road,” he says, and he’s already having “more effective conversations” with banks.

“Things don’t just turn around overnight,” he says. “But you can’t help but be inspired that things are going to be fine. It really gives you such a strong belief in humanity; how could you give up on humanity when you see something like this?”

By Sam Oches

Charitable Giving, Fast Casual, Finance, Growth, Marketing & Promotions, News, Nick's Pizza & Pub