Cascade Pizza making a smooth ownership transition

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 3, 2013 

Passing a family business on to the next generation can test the survival of a company, but the transition seems to be going well at Cascade Pizza.

Three years ago Nikitas "Nick" Tsoulouhas told his two daughters and two sons-in-law - Eleni Kyriazis, Tina Tsoulouhas, Chris Kyriazis and Pete Primbas - that he wanted to start stepping away from the business and give them a chance to grow the longtime Bellingham eatery at 2431 Meridian St.

Nick Tsoulouhas opened the Fountain District restaurant in 1978, operating the business for 33 years. His daughters began working at the place years ago as teens and eventually were joined by Kyriazis and Primbas.

Having all four of the new generation working the restaurant was important for an orderly transition, said Primbas. They each have separate duties in running the restaurant, so splitting the ownership job into four parts gives an indication of how much work Nick Tsoulouhas put in through the years. Nick still regularly drops in at the restaurant, greeting customers and helping out where he can.

"Nick never would have given us the reins if we didn't know how to drive it (the restaurant)," Primbas said. "We're all so appreciative of what he's taught us and for giving us this opportunity."

While some of the basics about running a restaurant are easily learned, it's the intangibles about relating to customers that made an impact on Primbas.

"Teaching us the ways of treating people, that makes you a better person in and out of the restaurant," Primbas said. "He made me a better man; I've seen his track record and have seen how much that works."

One of the challenges as businesses transition to the next generation is balancing the urge to make changes with the desire to keep the things that made it a success. In Cascade Pizza's case, it was important not only to keep many of the menu favorites for the longtime customers, but to make sure the quality is consistent, Primbas said.

At the same time, the restaurant is trying to reach out to the children and grandchildren of longtime customers. Recent plans include installing new televisions for the upcoming football season and revamping the bar. They also reviewed and kept a variety of family-friendly specials, including children under 5 eating for free.

Watching these decisions, Nick said it's gone well. It's good to make changes, he said, but not several big ones at the same time.

"The important thing is to maintain, to keep the business going and slowly make changes," Nick said.

Nick admits it is hard to retire, but he enjoys helping out "the kids" when they ask, as well as visiting with customers. According to the restaurant's website, Nick was born and raised in a small village in Greece, but the economy was difficult there so his family raised money and traveled to America. Arriving in Bellingham in 1969, he and his brother, Nicholas, went to work at Intalco. The two saved money to start Cascade Pizza, with the first one opening in Sedro-Woolley in 1974 before opening the Meridian eatery four yeas later. Nicholas' son runs the Sedro-Woolley one now.

"My heart has always been in this restaurant, so it is hard to retire," Nick said. "It's been a good, long ride. It (the transition) has gone well; they've done a good job."

The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. For details, visit cascade-pizza.com or its Facebook page.

RESTAURANT ROUNDUP

It may be the dog days of summer, but this area continues to have plenty of restaurant activity. Here are a few things I noticed:

• An application was filed with the city to convert the former office space at 1204 Cornwall Ave. (next to the Shrimp Shack) into a restaurant called Hot Point and Tea Express. According to the permit application, menu items would include hot pot dishes, dumplings, noodles, soups and tea.

• The Skagit Valley Casino Resort opened a new restaurant on Thursday, Aug. 1. It's called Skagit Skillet and will offer down-to-earth comfort food, country-style meals and breakfast specialties, according to a news release. It will be open 7 to 11:30 a.m. daily for breakfast. Thursday through Sunday it has lunch hours of 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinner hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• The Port of Subs sandwich shop at 206 E. Magnolia St. in downtown Bellingham closed last week, with everything packed away.

• Chris Marrano recently started Marrano's Chicago, which sells Chicago-style hot dogs and sandwiches out of a mobile food cart. He rotates around a variety of locations in Bellingham, including in the downtown area and near Kulshan Brewery. Check out his Facebook page for details.

OTHER TIDBITS

• A building permit was filed to put in an Alaska USA Federal Credit Union at the Sehome Haggen store at 210 36th St.

• A building permit was issued to put in a new retail consignment sporting goods store called Traders Depot. It'll be at Bakerview Square.

Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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