PORTLAND, Ore. -- When it comes to looks, there's little to love about the Toyota Echo.

But David Yudkin didn't buy five of them so he could pick up girls.

The gas-sipping, grocery-getters are the backbone of the delivery fleet at his two Hot Lips Pizza stores in Portland, Ore.

Despite their diminutive profiles, Yudkin insisted they make roomy delivery cars.

"We take out the front passenger seat, and that leaves a ton of room for pies," said Yudkin, who co-owns the soon-to-be three-store company with his wife, Jeana Eldelman. "Recently we used just two of them to deliver an order for 600 people. In each car we had 45 pizzas, plus salad, soda and all the plates and napkins. Their size is pretty deceiving."

Yudkin bought the Echos with fuel efficiency in mind. Depending on the driver, he said his average 28 miles per gallon cruising busy Portland's streets. Because of their slim shape, he said they're also easy to maneuver, which helps in tight city parking slots.

"Compared to the trucks we used to use, I really think that's resulted in less damage to them," said Yudkin. Not to mention sharply reduced gas costs. The trucks, he said, got only eight miles per gallon.

Before buying his first Echos in 1999, Yudkin considered spending $20,000 on Honda's gas-electric hybrid, the Insight. In the end, however, he decided the Insight was both too small and too expensive, and for about the same price, he bought two Toyotas.

Like many Portlanders, Yudkin also is serious about running an environmentally friendly business. The changes made to his facilities over the last three years have not only saved his company money, but made it an example in the community.

By installing energy efficient lights in his downtown store's dining room, he slashed his electric bill from $900 to $450 a month. In Hot Lips' new store, set to open in January 2002, the heat from the custom-made quadruple-deck oven will be captured and redirected to heat the restaurant's water, saving even more.

Delivering an Image

The cost of each car is $11,000, plus he spends $2,500 a year to insure them. Still, Yudkin considers that payout an investment in peace of mind. The drivers work in safe, well-maintained cars that bear Hot Lips' trade dress, he knows for certain the vehicles are insured, and he believes the employees are more inclined to take better car of his car than theirs.

"Our drivers have to be at least 21, but they're typically 21 to 30," said Yudkin. "I've got some control over what's out there representing our company, too. It's not some junk box that isn't compatible with what we're marketing."

In the short run, he said, it's definitely cheaper to have drivers supply their vehicles. But he believes owning cars that benefit both the business and the environment represent Hot Lips best.

"When I really thought about it, the liability thing was the deciding factor for me. I've put too much in to my business not to do it for that reason," he said. "But when I think about what our company is all about, and our goals for sustainability, it just makes sense."

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