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The longtime North Naples location of Cici’s Pizza is closing this weekend after operating for nearly 20 years in Uptown Center next to Sam’s Club on Immokalee Road.  

The local franchise agreement with the national restaurant chain ends this summer, but local franchisee Philip Santucci decided not to renew it. “I just decided I didn’t want to sign on for another 10 years,” he said. 

Santucci unsuccessfully tried to find someone to take over the franchise.  

“It’s a hard sell, he said. “It’s 20 years old. Most of the equipment in it is 20 years old. If somebody came in under Cici’s agreement, they would have to remodel the whole store. It would cost a couple hundred thousand to do that and new equipment to buy. It’s a hard sell.”  

Cici's Pizza franchise owner Philip SantucciIf Santucci renewed his franchise agreement, he also would have to bring the Naples store up to the company’s latest specifications. Doing so would be costly, of course.  

“I’m just closing it down and I’m going to go do something else,” he said. “I have a few things in the works. I just don’t have anything solidified.”  

After posting on social media this week that he would be permanently closing, folks flocked to the restaurant to get a bittersweet final bite of the all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta, salad and desserts.  

“I had lines outside the door. It’s unbelievable. I haven’t seen that in 15 years, Santucci said. “There were people coming by for one last time, you know, to reminisce with me and tell me how they were kids when they were here and now, they have kids of their own or they came when their kids were 5 years old and now their kids are 25 years old. It’s just been amazing.”  

Santucci had to close early Wednesday night because he ran out of product for the day.  

“It’s the first time in 20 years, he said. “I’ve never run out of product. I just had to lock the doors. It’s been amazing, the response in this community. It’s overwhelming.”  

Cici's Pizza in North NaplesWhile originally announcing that the restaurant’s last day would be June 9 Santucci’s not sure he will have enough food to last until then.  

“I don’t know if we’re going to make it to Sunday, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I had bought enough supplies to last until Sunday, based on a normal week but, like I said, this week has been anything but normal. If it keeps up the way it’s been going the last two days, Friday may be my last day or Saturday may be my last day. I don’t really know. I’m kind of playing it by ear. It depends on supplies.”  

Santucci opened the store as its original general manager, but he wasn’t the initial owner of the Naples franchise. “We opened Aug. 2, 2004, so I was here opening day and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “I bought the store five years ago, the year before COVID.”  

Santucci bought it in 2019 and then the pandemic temporarily closed everything in early 2020. Of course, the timing couldn’t have been worse to own a restaurant, especially one with a buffet as its central feature. Social distancing was not an option.  

“I had 40 employees at that time. I had to lay off all my employees. I was coming in by myself to work and just doing takeout and delivery pizza. I was selling like 25 pies a day. No big deal,” he said. “Two months later we started bringing everybody back a little bit, a little bit, a little bit. Finally, I got all my employees back, but we weren’t really doing any business. It took us almost two years to get back to being a normal business. People were really skittish for a long time about coming to a buffet.”  

Since then, business has been steady and good, but Santucci doesn’t want to commit to another 10 years of running the restaurant.  

“I’m 60 years old now. When I started, I was 40. It was different back then,” he said. “It seemed like a good time to call it quits.”  

The corporation has been supportive over the years to Santucci, previously honoring him by naming him both manager and owner of the year.  

“It’s nothing about Cici’s. They’ve been nothing but great to me, he said. They helped me every step of the way. They’ve done whatever they can do to help me build the business. I’m nothing but grateful for their help and support.”  

A chain founded in Texas in 1985, Cici’s still operates more than 275 locations nationwide with 23 in Florida. The nearest location is at Del Prado Mall in Cape Coral.  

Santucci’s family had a pizza business in the Philadelphia area when he was growing up. “I’ve been in the pizza business since I was 12 years old, he said. “I actually moved to Florida to get out of the pizza business, but things didn’t work out that way.  

After he and his family arrived in Southwest Florida in 2002, Santucci worked a few other jobs for a couple of years until the Cici’s opportunity arose.  

“It was a great thing. When we first opened, this store was amazing. We were one of the best stores in the company. We used to even beat out Orlando sometimes,” he said. “It’s always been a great store but it’s an old store now. It’s a 20-year-old store. It looks good. It’s clean and neat but it looks like it’s 20 years old. It needs an update, and I don’t have the financial backing to do that kind of an investment.”  

In an era when dining values are increasingly more difficult to find, the local loss of Cici’s reliable value-driven, family-oriented concept will leave a void. It is a place where construction workers or an entire youth football team could stop in for a quick lunch, Santucci said.  

“What’s nice about Cici’s is that it was very reasonably priced. When we opened up, we were $4.99 [for the all-you-can-eat buffet], he said.  

But prices have increased, and a lot of change has occurred along Immokalee Road.  

“When we opened up 20 years ago, this was the new Naples where we’re at. Now the new Naples is all east of us. That’s where they’re building all the new stuff now,” he said.  

Santucci will walk away from Cici’s without any regrets.  

It’s been great to me. I love what I do. I love the job. People really respond. The appreciation has been overwhelming,” he said. “It’s just time for me personally to move on. The franchise agreement ending kind of gave me an out that I wasn’t really looking for but I’m just taking advantage of it while it’s there because, if I sign up for another five or 10 years, I’ll regret it.” 

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