Law affects CiCi’s Pizza franchisee

Published on Monday, 29 July 2013 22:45 - Written by BY CASEY MURPHY

After being a CiCi’s Pizza franchisee for nearly 20 years, Bob Westbrook sold his two Tyler restaurants because of the Affordable Care Act.

Westbrook, 60, president of the East Texas Restaurant Association, sold his two Tyler franchises in October. While serving as president of the Texas Restaurant Association in 2010, when the health care bill was introduced and debated, one of his jobs as president of the state trade association was to track legislation and assess its impact on the restaurant industry.

At the time, Westbrook said the penalty, or tax, for businesses with employees more than 50 was going to be $2,300 per full-time employee a year. With his three restaurants, Westbrook had 96 full-time equivalent employees and the tax would have cost him nearly $80,000 more than what he made for the year, he said. The tax has since been lowered to $2,000 per employee, he added.

Westbrook said the only hope they had was for the states to file suit against the government, but the case was ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court. He knew he had to get his businesses to less than 50 employees or it would not be affordable. So in October, he sold his two Tyler stores to two separate people.

He plans to sell his Cici’s franchise in Longview Aug. 15, but that sale is not related to the health care act, Westbrook said. He plans to sell it to his son, Chris Westbrook, who wants to build his own restaurant business, he added.

Westbrook was featured on national news last week. He gave an interview to Fox 51 about two months ago and was interviewed July 22 by Greta Van Susteran.

He said he wants to get the message out to other small business owners to do the math, seek out professional help to see what the impact would be on their specific business model and figure out how and if they will survive, he said.

“I’m disappointed. The government has robbed me of the opportunity to finish my franchise career,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Westbrook is not ready for retirement. He plans to reenter the restaurant industry; he’s just not sure how. For now, he wants to tell his message, he said, adding that he plans to remain active in the local and state trade associations.

“We have a saying in the restaurant business: ‘If you’re not designing the menu, you’re on the plate.’ … I don’t want to be on the plate,” he said.

Westbrook said he will do what he can to help other small business owners.