Mark Chiattello remembers when his father, Guy, started A.J. Pickerman's. Even though the restaurant chain closed five years later, in 1980, a victim of the decade's slumping economy, Guy never gave up on the idea.
Twenty years later, when the younger Chiattello was thinking about starting a business of his own, Guy suggested resurrecting A. J. Pickerman's. So that's just what he did back in '96. But Chiattello wasn't interested in simply restarting his father's company; he wanted to make a few alterations, including changing the restaurant's name to Pickerman's Soup & Sandwich Shop.
"Back when my father owned it, it was a full-service, full-menu restaurant," Chiattello recalls. "I decided to keep the menu and the concept very simple. I didn't want to be all over the board, trying to serve all kinds of items."
The new Pickerman's has a menu of gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads that are served at the company's 22 franchise locations throughout the Midwest. Twenty other locations are currently under construction, and Chiattello hopes to open 50 units by year-end and double the number of new units each year after that. "In the first quarter, we got 20 leases out," he says. "It's just a matter of finding spots and getting the leases signed."
With the support of his family-his father is company president, his brother does computer design for the stores, and his wife and his mother handle the décor for each location-Chiattello's building the company of dreams. "My life is dedicated to Pickerman's," says the 29-year-old. "I'm still a pretty young guy, but a few years ago, I decided this is what I want to do."
And maybe in another 20 years, Chiattello's now 2-year-old daughter will decide running Pickerman's is what she wants to do, too. A turnkey Pickerman's franchise costs between $110,000 and $120,000.