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Focus on Food, People

Through thick and thin, Nick’s Pizza & Pub remains committed to serving great food in a family-friendly atmosphere while educating employees and supporting local charities.

Passion. We hear it all the time: live passionately, love passionately. We all try. We make the effort, but often times we come up short.

You know it when you see it, though — people living their lives with passion. It pours out of them. You can see it in their eyes. It’s in the way they walk, the way they talk, the way they make a difference.

Nick Sarillo, founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake and Elgin, is the embodiment of passion. He believes with every fiber of his being that a restaurant can make a difference — a difference in the lives of families and entire communities. And he’s proving it every day — one pizza, one sandwich, one drink at a time.

“You have to take your passion and create a purpose,” he said, describing his zeal for “creating a great experience for guests and the people who work here.”

Making Pizza to Make a Difference

“Pizza is great community food,” Sarillo said. “It’s not just a single serving. You share it.” And that’s what he does — he shares it. He shares his profits, and his time and expertise with his communities and employees.

He chose a pizza place because it’s what he knows. He grew up in the business. His father used to own Village Pizza in Carpentersville, Ill., with a family friend. Sarillo inherited his father’s pizza recipe and uses it at both locations. “We try to stay local in our ingredients,” he said. “We use Fabbri [brand] sausage from Chicago,” another family tradition.

The pizza is so well received that on a busy night Nick’s Pizza & Pub will cook “700 to 800 pizzas,” Sarillo said.

Although well known for its pizzas, Sarillo said, the restaurant has a menu that offers burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and gluten-free dishes. One of the specialties is the Italian beef sandwich, a recipe from his father’s first foray into the food business: “Fran’s Beef Stand at 21st Street and Blue Island Avenue in Chicago,” Sarillo said.

“We don’t believe in a huge menu where only half of it is done right,” he added. “We offer a relatively small menu and we do all of it right.”

Family Atmosphere

The other things Sarillo makes sure he does right are the decor and the dining experience. Walk up to the restaurant in Crystal Lake and you are greeted by a door that would make a medieval castle jealous, while the building itself resembles so many of the old barns for which McHenry County is famous.

The interior features heavy beams, posts and siding from those barns. Sarillo points out that some of the wood that adorns a recent addition to the Crystal Lake restaurant comes from a barn that once stood at Three Oaks Road and Route 31. Antiques and animal trophies adorn the walls, adding another layer of patina, age and authenticity.

In putting the decor together, Sarillo said he wanted people to “come in and feel comfortable. I wanted it to seem like it had been there for a hundred years.”

Sarillo wants families to be comfortable when they visit. One of his trademarks is the peanuts. Served to each table in a basket, their shells often wind up on the floor after they are eaten. “We wanted to create an easy choice” for families, he said. “A place where kids could be kids and families could get together.”

He said his goal was to make it so relaxing that even something like a spilled soda pop is no big deal.

Giving Back

The remaining leg in Sarillo’s “experi-ence” stool, where everything comes together, is in the way Nick’s Pizza & Pub gives back to the community. He doesn’t spend money on advertising. All the funds that would normally go to marketing efforts instead support activities in the community. There is a special room in the Crystal Lake location that is covered with photos of local youth hockey, baseball, softball, basketball and wrestling teams his businesses support.

He opens both of his locations for numerous fundraisers where 15 percent of the net sales from each event goes directly to community organizations as varied as choirs, PTAs and sports teams.

Sarillo takes community involvement another step further by identifying families in need and creating events to raise funds for them. “We give 100 percent of the profits for that day or night” to the family, he said.

“We hear about the families through networking,” he added. The families that need the most help are often too proud to let others know they are struggling, he said.

His philanthropy extends to the staff in the form of training beyond the ordinary. Some “own a line on the profit and loss statement,”he said. “I teach them to how to run a business.”

“Employees take ownership” of their responsibilities, too, Sarillo said. Sarillo’s efforts are not lost on customers. Two different servers recently each received $1,000 tips.

Sarillo believes each community is sending a message: This is the kind of company we want to support in these tough times because it  has  good  values,  gives  back  to  the  community and takes care of its team.

“My family is grateful for the communities’ support,” Sarillo said.

Nick’s Receives $25K Grant, Plans to Invest in Staff

On January 6, Nick’s Pizza & Pub became the latest recipient of Intuit Inc.’s “Love a Local Business” small business grant program. The Northwest Illinois pizza company received word in November 2011 that a frequent guest had nominated them for the grant. To spread the word and lobby for community votes, Nick’s Pizza & Pub leveraged the contest on social media, including its Facebook page

(www.facebook.com/nickspizzapub) with more than 6,300 fans.

“We’ve turned a corner financially, and with Intuit’s generosity, I can now refocus my attention on continuing to hire the right people and growing our company,” Sarillo said. The pizza company sent an email to frequent diners in September 2011 requesting the community’s support during his company’s financial troubles, which arose from the challenging economy, dipping housing market and area road construction that diverted guests away from the restaurants. Sarillo credits the community’s outpouring of support as the compelling force that helped his business get back in the black.

Nick’s Pizza & Pub is now a finalist to win a grand prize worth an additional $25,000.

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