OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two-store Zachary's Chicago Pizza will soon have new owners -- its employees.

According to the Contra Costa Times, Zach Zachowski and Barbara Gabel, the husband-and-wife owners of the East Bay restaurants, want to retire from the pizza business, and will adopt an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that will sell the business to their employees.

The complicated plan involves borrowing money from a bank to pay the couple for their stake. The company combines the loan with contributions from the business' revenues to buy it from the owners. At the same time, employees working more than 1,000 hours a year get a share of the company based on salary, but at no cost to them. Shares set aside for them come on top of their normal salary.

After a period of seven years (starting in January 2001), each employee's piece of the business is theirs to sell or keep.

Zachary's 60 employees were excited about the prospect of becoming owners. J.P. LaRussa, who was 17 when he started working at Zachary's when it opened in 1983, said simply, "It's awesome."

Paul Hunt started at Zachary's in 1987, and has worked on and off there ever since. He does prep work in the Oakland kitchen most mornings and works in the Berkeley restaurant on weekends. He said he planned to stick around to participate in the employee ownership.

"We now have a stake in this," he said.

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