TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. -- Domino's Pizza franchisee John Paulette hasn't delivered pizzas to Mango Circle for seven years, but after the operator surveyed the Tarpon Springs, Fla., street himself last week, he has changed his mind.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, not only will Mango Circle residents get pizza delivery again, Paulette will treat them to one free pizza as soon as he can instruct his drivers and equip them with maps.
"That neighborhood is as nice as anywhere else," Paulette told the Times. "There is no reason not to deliver there."
Paulette and the franchisee of a Tarpon Springs Pizza Hut have faced recent criticism from neighborhood residents and city officials for redlining the area, which has seen its share of crimes in the last several years.
On the night of Aug. 23, Paulette drove his Ford Explorer through the Mango Circle loop of about 50 public housing units, and brought along a friend and a video camera, just in case.
"I didn't know what to expect," Paulette said. Last time he drove down the street, in 1995, a crowd threw rocks at his car. This time, he found a quiet, well-lit neighborhood. A woman was walking down the street, and he had to stop and ask:
"Is this Mango Circle?"
It was. And it had changed.
Paulette returned alone around midnight Aug. 31, later sent his store manager for a tour, and finally, called Tarpon Springs' mayor.
"He was very receptive," Mayor Frank DiDonato said. The neighborhood used to have problems, DiDonato added, but the city has cleaned it up in the past few years. The street has better lighting, stricter regulations and a stronger police presence.
"We have come a heck of a long way," DiDonato said.
The city has taken issue with both Domino's and Pizza Hut. Citing safety concerns, the Pizza Hut operator there refuses delivery to the predominantly black Union Academy neighborhood, a much larger area than Mango Circle. Some residents have called the policies racist.
Dallas-based Pizza Hut is still reviewing its policy and Union Academy crime statistics, spokeswoman Julie Hildebrand said Friday.
Mango Circle residents welcomed the Domino's decision and the free pizza.
"I will enjoy that," said Belinda Heard, mother of six pepperoni-loving children. "I ain't got to worry about cooking dinner one night, anyway."
She never understood why she had to drive to pick up a pizza. The neighborhood is quiet and friendly, she said. "I see them deliver to everybody else's house."
If Domino's drivers encounter problems, delivery will stop until the problem is fixed, Paulette said. Drivers have the right not to deliver if they feel unsafe, but they can't rule out entire areas, he said.
He takes responsibility for letting Mango Circle go too long without delivery.
"I should have gone back over the years and looked at the neighborhood," he said. "I'm embarrassed it took this long for this to happen."
Delivery drivers have nothing to worry about, said Mango Circle resident Cathy Austin, 43. "People out here aren't going to mess with them. We've got better things to do," she said.
But she will accept Paulette's apology and start ordering again.
"If he wants to send me a free pizza," she said, "make it supreme."