COPPELL, Texas -- CiCi's Pizza founder, president and CEO, Joe Croce, 44, announced on Feb. 3 he will sell his company to six executives on July 1.

A news release did not disclose the terms of the buyout, but it did report Croce will not retain an active role within the company.

In an emotional, but upbeat letter to CiCi's employees and franchisees, Croce shared his plans for both his future and the company's.

"After 18 years, 420 restaurants and millions of air miles and memories, I will be leaving CiCi's to become a full-time husband and father to my young family," Croce said. "The current management team is absolutely the very best management group for your future. They are committed to meeting the goals of our aggressive strategic plans as CiCi's moves forward with its new concept restaurant design, multi-unit development and expansion."

Members of the management team who will assume ownership in the company are Craig Moore, vice president of operations; Robert Kulick, president of JMC Restaurant Distribution, CiCi's purchasing and distribution arm; Forbes Anderson, chief financial officer for both CiCi's and JMC Distribution; Joe Flanigan, vice president of marketing; Robert Grosshuesch, vice president of training; and Robert Parent, vice president of development.

Collectively, the soon-to-be owners have 45 years' experience in the CiCi's system. Their future roles have not been announced.

The first CiCi's Pizza, a take-out-only store, opened in 1985 in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

By the end of 1997, 145 units were open and system sales topped $100 million. Store numbers soared to 354 by 2000 and the chain's sales hit $301 million. A year later, CiCi's 375 stores generated $315 million in sales.

Currently there are 420 CiCi's operating in 20 states. In 2002, sales were $335 million, and the company's annual per-store sales average was more than $900,000.

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