Nick's Pizza donates 15 percent of sales every year.

Thin and Crispy Community Base

Illinois pizza restaurant donates five percent of sales to charity every year

Community is of vital importance to Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza and Pub. He not only needs it because it constitutes his customer base, but he wants to be a part of it, and to give back to it as much as he can.

Sarillo opened his first restaurant in Crystal Lake, Illinois in 1995 and his second in Elgin, Illinois, 10 years later. The restaurants now typically each see sales of just under $3 million annually and Sarillo gives five percent of that back to the community through fundraisers and benefits every year. In 2010 he donated around $70,000; last year around $40,000.

Sarillo talks to Restaurant Management about his community giving.

When did you first get involved in the local community?

I got involved as soon as I was profitable. Around 2001 with the help of a consultant, I really got focused on creating a high performing culture.

In order to create that we needed to be explicit with the culture we wanted, which led us to creating our purpose and our values. Then it became obvious that we needed to align our generosity up with our values.

How does the program work?

The first program, in 2001, wasn’t a sophisticated program but in 2002, 2003, we started to tweak it and made it an integral part of our business model. Instead of just writing random checks, we created a system where we could open our doors for fundraising events and give back the proceeds to the organization that brought in the guests.

Any organization that wants to raise money through Nick’s comes and eats and we give back 15 percent of those sales to that organization.

Where do you donate the money?

[The money] goes to whichever organization comes to us—it could be the kids’ hockey team, local PTAs of the grade schools, or a child who has cancer.

I also have a big focus on National Autism Awareness Month in April, and last year raised $32,000 for it.

A couple of times a year we also do a benefit for a child and give back 100 percent of our profit for that day. Some of those have raised around $12,000. So we get to the annual five percent through these fundraisers and benefits and we have become very good at forecasting what five percent will be throughout the year.

What are some of the paybacks of donating to your local community?

I think that’s why the community supported us during our time of need. We had a really tough time of it in one of our restaurants—from April to September 2011 we had a drop of 40 percent in sales.

We were on the verge of starting down the foreclosure process, so I let the community know we were in a crisis and the community came out in a huge way. I wrote an honest, from my heart email to all of our guests in our frequent diner database and sent it out, which then went viral.

How have you continued to donate five percent of sales after a bad year?

Because five percent of net sales is a lot less, we’ve given less. We have our values about how we run our organization and I think when things are tough, it’s not a time to stop having our values. I still feel strongly that it’s a healthy model.

Why is investing in the community important to you?

We’re building relationships in the community. We believe in that for the hospitality business especially. Our best customers are the families and people around us. They give to us every time they come in and have a meal, so we want to give back to them and show gratitude for the good things that happen.

Have you made any mistakes with your fundraising over the years?

Donating is nice but it really handcuffs you to being always in charge. And I don’t think that fosters growth in a team. In the beginning it was just me telling the team who and how much we were going to donate, not even tied to a budget. It was not that healthy for the company—not having a specific plan and a structure around giving back to the community.

So, we started with a budgeted amount of net sales, then we used our values to start with the how, and soon found that all we needed to do was have the structure and let the community come to us to use our facility.

The team knows how it works and it makes them proud to work here. They are contributing to the bigger picture and have the sense of contributing to something meaningful.