Longtime customers help salvage struggling restaurant

Posted April 23, 2009

Call it a type of bailout – from the heart.

The owner of the Schlotzky's Deli along U.S. Highway 64 in Apex planned to close due to poor sales last year until longtime customers Jim and Joyce Willis used their life savings to save the business and its employees.

Jim and Joyce Willis Customers become owners of struggling restaurant

Manager Randy Ellis had come to know the couple because they visited daily and Joyce Willis ordered the Chicken Fiesta sandwich every day. So he went to them with a proposal to go in with him and buy the restaurant.

"And we said, 'Who?'" Joyce Willis said. "Us? Never! We're too old. We've retired three times."

Then, the couple said, they thought about the 14 employees who would lose their jobs. They thought about Ellis, who has a son with cystic fibrosis.

"I said, 'The Lord has been so good to us and given us so much. Why shouldn't we give back to somebody?'" Joyce Willis said.

The Willises took all they had in the bank, invested it in the restaurant and became co-owners.

They are now fixing up the restaurant and hope that, despite the economy, in five to seven years, they will be able to sell their share of the business to Ellis.

"It's something I've always wanted, always dreamed about," Ellis said. "To me, it's a godsend. It's a prayer answered. It really is."

"Every single day we plan to be here, as long as we can get out of bed and make our feet move, " Joyce Willis said.

The Willises aren't pocketing any pay for their work. The reward, they said, is keeping the business afloat – and the occasional Fiesta Chicken sandwich.


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  • Adelinthe Apr 24, 2009

    IG - "How preyful to go to the elderly couple that comes into your sandwich shop every day to eat the same meal and ask them for their life savings to bailout your failing restaurant to bandroll *your* life dream and keep you employed?!"

    And disgusting as well.

    Praying for these folks. Praying all goes well for them somehow.

    God bless.


  • Quagmire Apr 24, 2009

    Scholtzkys was hip in the late 90's, its been around 10 years since i ate there.

  • NotFromHere Apr 24, 2009

    You all have no clue what you are talking about. It can sometimes take very little capital to change a business from failing to successful. If their investment in the business did nothing more than pay off the mortgage on the building, that could mean another $2,000 to $2,500 a month more in profit. This could have been a poor investment or it could have been the smartest investment they ever made. Unless you have access to the real numbers you have no clue what you are talking about.

  • ty will belabor a point Apr 24, 2009

    I would bet that this location turns a profit very soon.../endquote

    I'll take that bet. Even odds this place doesn't make it another year or two (depending on how much capital these people sunk into the business. Whatever their reasons, unless the business plan was amazing, they just entered into a sucker's bet with someone who, based on the article, hadn't been able to turn the restaurant around in the time he's been the GM.

    This story makes me want to punch a shark.

  • housemanagercary Apr 24, 2009

    This is not a great story... A failing restaurant of that size will soak up their savings in no time and these poor people will be left with nothing to support themselves with. I wish the would have had children or close friends to talk them out of it. How preyful to go to the elderly couple that comes into your sandwich shop every day to eat the same meal and ask them for their life savings to bailout your failing restaurant to bandroll *your* life dream and keep you employed?!

  • Adelinthe Apr 24, 2009

    Repeat after me...

    Subway: "$5 Foot Long"

    As soon as that special goes away, so do I.

    God bless.


  • htomc42 Apr 24, 2009

    All of these sandwich shops are horribly overpriced. Even the venerable Subway, which was once a deal, you can't get non-fancy footlong even on the "special" without going over $8. Don't get me going about Quizno's and the others. That's why I don't go anymore.

    The most big-hearted charitable impulse isn't necessarily good business sense.

  • ncguy Apr 24, 2009

    I hope they have a lawyer with a contract that the manager/owner signed.

    I would hate to see them take the fall for all his debt.

  • Scubagirl Apr 24, 2009

    agree w/ deathrow.

  • Adelinthe Apr 24, 2009

    I personally think it was nefarious of the store owner to ask them for help.

    He knows full well why the store failed, and he knows he can't change that to make it successful, even with time.

    Their food is too expensive.

    God bless.