By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — In a little more than two years, three national pizza chains have vacated the business market of Clinton, begging the question, can the Gateway area support a variety of pizza-related restaurants?
To answer that question, area restaurateurs are saying yes it can.
Domino’s Pizza, Godfather’s and Papa John’s recently closed its doors in Clinton. However, all three buildings are not void of new businesses.
Local pizzerias are still operating, including Rastrelli’s for 75 years and Manny’s, which has expanded to three additional restaurants from its original Savanna, Ill., location. Now, Zaza’s Pizza is joining the ranks of hometown pizzerias with the hope that they will find success as well.
“Clinton’s just a great town; small enough, that it’s big enough,” Zaza’s proprietor Anne Khan said. “People like to know that the decisions being made by a restaurant are geared toward that community. Where a franchise may not necessarily work in Clinton, like if there’s a product out there that’s isn’t just the right fit, you’re stuck with it. With us, we can adjust to that market.”
Taking the place of the former Domino’s Pizza franchise located on North Second Street in Clinton, which was terminated on Jan. 16, for “repeated contract violations, numerous financial and operational defaults,” according to Domino’s Vice President of Communications Tim McIntyre, Zaza’s will become Clinton’s newest carry-out and delivery restaurant.
Godfather’s Director of Communications Derek Hernandez said the corporation closes their franchises for a variety of reasons but could not disclose specific details to the closing of the Lincoln Way location, and a representative from Papa John’s was unavailable for comment.
In the place of Godfather’s is the new Mexican restaurant, Cinco de Mayo, and Smokin’ Joes expanded into the Papa John’s facility.
Rastrelli’s owner Mike Rastrelli has his own take on why some corporate chains close and why he is still able to maintain his family owned business.
“I think it does get down to the relationship between corporations and franchisees,” Rastrelli said. “Pizzas have become almost a commodity that even convenient stores today are saying they’re America’s pizza places. So, if a franchise is unable to make money, corporate is going to come in and pull it.”
His secret to success — preserving quality products at competitive prices.
“People will shop where they want,” Rastrelli said. “You have to give them quality and value for them to choose you.”
That same business model has kept Manny’s in business for more than 40 years, and second-generation owners Terrah Castro and Michelle Plattenberger don’t plan on changing a thing.
Their combination of Mexican food and Italian food (pizza and tacos) made with local ingredients is one way Castro believes they have maintained success while national chains have fallen.
But she also attributes Manny’s “laid-back” atmosphere to playing a major role in their prosperity.
“Corporate places are too impersonal,” Castro said. “People who work here and eat here become a part of the Manny’s family. When customers who have moved out of town come back, this is their first stop.”
Khan is hoping Zaza’s will make that kind of impact on the people of Clinton.
She too offers a blend of meal offerings from gourmet pizza and chicken wings to gyros and hamburgers.
“When you go out to eat, the whole point is to feel taken care of,” Khan said. “This is the food I’m going to give to my kids so we put a lot of research into this. I wouldn’t put anything out there that I wasn’t 100 percent confident in.”
Once she is able to finalize cosmetic improvements to the former Domino’s location and get her Dixon, Ill., Zaza’s pizza restaurant sustaining on its own, she hopes May will be the time she can test her business model on the Clinton market, a market she believes is ready for Zaza’s.
“Everybody loves to try something a little different,” Khan said.