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California Restaurant Industry Vet Finds a New Persona at Cutting-Edge Pizza Place Nick Ulrich says he loves the mom-and-pop feel of the build-it-yourself Persona Pizza franchise, which he runs with his brothers in his hometown of Santa Rosa.

Edited by Dan Bova

Persona Pizza
Left, Kyle Ulrich - Kitchen Manager Middle, Nick Ulrich - Owner Right, Jordan Ulrich - General Manager.

For the past 20 years, Nick Ulrich of Santa Rosa, Calif. has worked every position in the restaurant, bar and night club industries, from busser to director of operations. A few years ago, he decided that restaurant ownership would be the next move that would best fit him, so in December of 2014, he became a franchisee and opened a Persona Pizza -- a popular wood-fired pizza place that allows customers to built their own pies.

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Ulrich had been a family friend of the company's CEO, Chef Glenn Cybulski, for over 20 years, and when Cybulski brought him in to the corporate store to help with operations, he said he "absolutely fell in love with the product and the company."

"Persona Pizza felt like a streamlined mom-and-pop restaurant with quality and love put into every pizza," he says.

Cybulski, who trained at the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli and was named World Pizza Champion at the Citta Di Napoli world pizza competition in Naples, Italy, founded Persona Pizza with Joe Baumel, a businessman and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

With a Chipotle-style Neopolitan (thin crust) pizza bar with choice of four sauces and over 30 gourmet toppings and wood-fired pies that cook in 90 seconds, this franchise became the top-rated fast-casual restaurant in less than 100 days after opening its first location in 2013 in Santa Barbara, Calif. Today, Persona Pizza has multiple California locations, a new location in Columbia, S.C. and are in development in five states, including Texas and Illinois.

Below, Ulrich describes what it's like to finally own his own business and be able to run it with this brothers in his hometown or Santa Rosa.

Name: Nick Ulrich

Franchise owned: Persona Pizza in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Q: How long have you owned a franchise?

Since December of 2014

Q: Why franchising?

Franchising is a pretty wonderful concept. I love the idea of franchising, because we get to use someone else's track record of success and leverage it for our own success. There is a significant amount of risk when you open a new business, especially with a concept of your own. Franchising minimizes the risk, because the franchisor already has the infrastructure to support you with training programs, marketing support, purchasing power and ongoing operational support.

Related: Despite a Major Move, From Mortgages to Steaks, This Franchisee Never Bit Off More Than He Could Chew

Q: What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I have been in restaurants for 20 years, my very first job was at a take-and-bake pizzeria in Northern California. I have worked every position in restaurants, bars and night clubs, from busser to director of operations. My next logical step was ownership, and having a franchise was the best route I found after extensive research. Currently, I am the Santa Rosa franchise owner, general manager for Santa Barbara and the corporate franchisee trainer.

Q: Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I have been a family friend of the CEO, Chef Glenn Cybulski, for over 20 years. I was brought into the corporate store to help with operations, and I fell absolutely in love with the product and the company. The research began, and a terrific location opened up in the downtown area of my hometown in Santa Rosa.

And, I get to work with my brothers, Kyle (Kitchen Manager) and Jordan (General Manager).

Q: How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

The average price of a build-out for a unit is $250,000 to $400,000.

Q: Where did you get most of your advice / do most of your research?

I did a lot of research by going to other similar pizza establishments and trying their product and getting a feel for the service. I was relatively unimpressed with the "chain" feel of most franchises, and it further pushed my interest to go with a franchise that didn't feel like a franchise. Persona Pizza felt like a streamlined mom-and-pop restaurant with quality and love put into every pizza.

Q: What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Dealing with the city permitting. We used a non-local contractor who was a bit unfamiliar with the intricacies of the local permitting process, which were extensive. The franchisor was monumentally helpful with permitting support.

Q: What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Do your research. There are a lot of potential franchises out there -- some very good and some not-so-good. Overall, go with a product you believe in and love, the rest will fall into place.

Related: Meet the Franchisee Who's Bringing New York-Style Pizza to Texas

Q: What's next for you and your business?

Expansion!

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