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A little slice of salvation

Local franchisees try to save a struggling pizza chain location by raising awareness of location, me

Posted: May 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Co-owners Dan Markel, left, and Curtis Platte with a Magellan pizza at Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza in Valencia. The restaurant recently won Best Overall Pizza in a cooking contest.


When Curtis Platte and his three business partners took over a faltering Valencia franchise at the end of October 2011, they were surprised to find how many people didn't even know the pizzeria existed.

"We purchased Nick-N-Willy's Pizza for less than what the assets were worth," Platte said. "The franchise had been losing money every month."

The new owners' focus has been to "get the numbers to make sense," through building market awareness and overcoming problems they see with a two-and-a-half-year lease belonging to the distressed franchise, he said.

"The risk was in the lease," Platte said. "We're in the process of trying to negotiate our rent and get it to be more in line with market conditions."

Saying the local pizza eatery was in trouble, Platte said the business had not been marketed by the former owner and was scraping by, trying to grow sales and managing a difficult rent.

"It's certainly still a difficult time for the restaurant, but since January, we've seen a 5- to 10-percent increase in sales month to month."

Nick-N-Willy's Pizza

Founded in Boulder, Colo., in 1989, Nick-N-Willy's Pizza has over 65 franchises.

The first pizza eatery was launched in Mammoth, where the company founders discovered it while skiing, Platte said. One of the guys had been involved with the Quiznos chain, and so they built Nick-N-Willy's Pizza via franchise sales.

"We're the only Nick-N-Willy's franchise in California," Platte said.

Later sold to a Canadian company World Famous Pizza Company Ltd., the Nick-N-Willy's franchise company was just sold again in January to Oregon-based Figaro's Italian Pizza Inc. for $600,000.

Startup costs for the typical franchise run $294,000 to $399,500, but Platte said his team got a great deal on their franchise because it was "in distress."

Now, the owners of the independently owned and operated franchise are working to turn the pizza eatery around.

Market awareness

"It is appalling this store has been open since 2006 and how many people have no idea that we exists," Platte said.

The owners are working to change that.

Two of the partners are from the entertainment industry. Platte used to work on the TV shows "Hollywood Tonight" and "Access Hollywood," he said. Another partner sells packaged food displays and owns four Subway sandwich shops. The fourth partner is primarily involved in real estate, he said.

The group's goal is to raise awareness that Nick-N-Willy's is here, as well as what's on the menu, Platte said.

"The local Nick-N-Willy's recently won a $500 prize for Best Overall Pizza in cooking contest for the troops, Platte said. Guy Fieri from the Food Network and David Arquette were the celebrity judges.

The owners have focused on expanding their catering service and support of community fundraisers to build market awareness.

The second objective is to renegotiate terms of the lease, Platte said.

Lease terms

Nick-N-Willy's is located in a shopping center on The Old Road, anchored by tenants Albertsons and BevMo.

The pizza eatery is paying $5,000 a month for 1,000 square feet of space, Platte said, which he feels is above market rate.

Platte said he and his partners began speaking with the landlord and other tenants about re-negotiating the lease.

"This is not a center that creates foot traffic. People drive in to BevMo or Albertsons," Platte said. "That means the tenants have to create our businesses to become a destination."

If the owners of Nick-N-Willy's aren't successful re-negotiating their lease, they're willing to break the lease and walk out, Platte said.


As for growing market awareness and building the business up, Platte said the owners are hoping to have the franchise turn a profit a in three months, although they're all working without compensation for now.

Turning a profit is also dependent on re-negotiating the rent, he said. If the owners can solve that problem, Platte said they're confident in their product.

"I challenge any one to find better pizza in Santa Clarita," he said.

Nick-N-Willy's Pizza is located at 26870 The Old Road in Valencia at the Westridge Village shopping center.




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