TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. -- Following the robbery of a Pizza Hut delivery driver here last November, the store where the driver was employed has refused after-dark delivery to residents of the city's predominantly black Union Academy neighborhood.
"I don't think it's fair," Alicia Porter, a 25-year-old nursing student who lives in Union Academy, told the St. Petersburg Times. "There are bad people everywhere in the world. But they (the pizza companies) shouldn't bar everybody because of it."
Pizza Hut isn't the only pizza company that has stopped delivery to parts of Tarpon Springs. The owner of the Domino's Pizza in the city said his company refused after-dark deliveries to Mango Circle in 1995 after one of his drivers was robbed and severely beaten.
Former City Commissioner Glenn Davis calls the delivery refusal "racism plain and simple."
Mayor Frank DiDonato said he's not sure the city can legally force the pizza companies to deliver to those areas, but he intends to write each operator and request that they meet with city officials to justify their policies.
"I don't think it's right people are being denied service because of where they live," DiDonato said.
In the Union Academy incident, three teenagers stole $100 from a delivery driver and hit him over the head.
Julie Hildebrand, spokesperson for Dallas-based Pizza Hut, said drivers have been repeatedly harassed in the Union Academy area. As a result, the company decided not to deliver after dark to an area bounded by Martin Luther King Boulevard on the south, Lemon Street on the north, Pinellas Avenue on the west and South Disston Avenue on the east.
"We don't want to tighten our delivery area," she said, "but we have to consider the safety of our drivers. People need to feel safe in their job and that's up to us."
The policy has nothing to do with race, she said, noting that the company delivers everywhere during daylight hours. And after dark, people in the restricted delivery area are offered discounts if they pick up their orders at the store.
John Paulette, owner of the Tarpon Springs Domino's, said he has long been a proponent for opening up previously closed areas for delivery, often over the objections of his delivery people. Sometimes drivers don't like to go to poor areas where customers often don't tip as well, he said.
"I don't believe in that," said Paulette, 36. "I believe everyone is equal."
So when he bought the Tarpon Springs shop in 1995, he said, he reopened deliveries to Mango Circle, a residential area with just one way in and one way out.
Two weeks later, however, a 62-year-old driver was severely beaten and robbed during a delivery on that street. The thieves took $20, beat him over the head with a stick and broke his nose and jaw.
The man ended up on permanent disability, and the company is still paying for a $250,000 worker's compensation settlement, he said.
"He got beaten up really bad and I felt really bad about it," Paulette said.
He quickly stopped after-dark deliveries to the area as a result.
"It's the only place I don't serve after dark," Paulette said. "I tell my people, I don't care what neighborhood you go to, if you don't feel comfortable, don't go in."
According to crime statistics provided by the Tarpon Springs Police Department, 45 of the 174 robberies that occurred in the city between 1995 and July of this year took place in Union Academy.
But neither Pizza Hut nor Domino's officials cited any crime statistics as a basis for their policies.
That's troubling, DiDonato said.
"I personally can't believe there is a problem there (in Union Academy)," he said. "I think we need to sit down and talk this thing out. I want to make sure they are being fair and equitable, and not being arbitrary in drawing lines."