Just got off the phone with Phil Romano, who says not only is the Oak Lawn Eatzi's remaining open, but come Saturday, he will be the sole owner of it--just like the good ol' days. Romano says he bought back the store from the current owners, a venture capital group out of Boston called Eatzi's LLC, who are in the process of shutting down all the other Eatzi's locations across the country effective the end of business today. And he says not only is the original location sticking around, but that he plans to open other Dallas locations when he rights the mothership.
"The place had gone to shit in a handbag," says Romano, clearly not mincing words about the owners to whom he sold out about three years ago. Romano had maintained a minority interest in the franchise and sat on its board but said he was ignored by the owners, who expanded into markets Romano wanted them to stay out of while "running the place like a corporation, which isn't how you treat it."
Romano says that since he stepped away from the place, he's heard nothing but complaints from customers, who found the quality of the product lacking. "Hell, my wife is in my ear half the night about it," he says. "It breaks my heart to see this happen, but finally it hit the wall, and I stepped back in." He says the current owners will "fire" all the Oak Lawn employees, but that he will hire them back--to work for Romano's Eatzi's, not the version being controlled by money men in Boston. As far as Romano understands it, Eatzi's LLC has hired a third party to liquidate all its assets; it's "just another form of bankruptcy," he says.
"They had computers doing all the ordering, and it just doesn't work with this kind of concept," Romano says. "It'll be operated like an old-fashioned store. It'll have a culture again. The place has no culture now. But that's the plan, and I am sticking to it. I mean, I was a 15 percent owner, I was the founder, but they didn't listen to me like they should have. Finally it didn't work the way they wanted it to. I said, 'I want this store.' The brand is as strong as it's ever been in Dallas, and we're going to build some more in Dallas."
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He says when he told employees he was coming back to run the store, some of them hugged him; others, he said, greeted him with tears. "They remember the way it was," he says. "And that's the way it'll be again." --Robert Wilonsky