Pizza passion, police and pains in the neck

March 8, 2004

A sting that hurt so good

I think I smiled for at least 15 minutes after I posted a news item recently about a police sting on a gang of teens trying to rob a pizza delivery driver (see Nabbed! Miami police ambush would-be pizza delivery driver muggers).

On Feb. 19, a Papa John's store got a call from a number its staff recognized was connected to an address that was the site of a previous robbery.

Apparently the store's staff had a plan in place in case this happened and called Miami Police to make the delivery for them. When Detective Leo Abad drove to the address to make the delivery, lying in the back seat of his car was Lt. David Magnusson, who just happened to be holding an AR-15 rifle—a fine piece of blue steel not likely for sale in the average sporting goods section.

Abad knocked on the door of the address, but no one answered. Then five young men, ranging in ages from 15 to 17, suddenly appeared and surrounded him. When one of men produced a piece of pipe, nine Miami police officers swooped in arrested the gang. These sweet lads, who likely claimed they only had a plumbing question for Abad, are now in jail facing felony charges.

I know there are too few police officers to go around in the first place, but I can't think of a better way to deter the alarming number of crimes against delivery drivers than such stings. It truly is a beautiful thing to see officers and operators work so well together. Not only should every operator reading this call their local authorities and work out a similar covert alert-response plan, operators also should alert their competitors about each and every crime that occurs

Steve Coomes, Editor

in their areas. Here's why.

Another story PizzaMarketplace ran just a few days (see Hat trick! Three pizza delivery drivers robbed in 3 hours at same address) later reported a how a pair of thieves successfully robbed drivers from three different New Haven, Conn., shops within a period of a few hours.

You'd think these thugs were going to the well one too many times by working the same scam, but they kept calling and the unsuspecting drivers kept on coming.

A possible way to stop this is for all operators to compile a hot list of phone numbers of competitors in their area. If something bad happens, they can alert all of them immediately to the danger and maybe save a driver's life.

This didn't happen in New Haven.

Pizza passion

There aren't many industries in which you'll find people who are passionate about their work. Pizza, however, has many, and a bunch of them attended the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, in February (See First-ever North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show draws 4,000 attendees).

I'm not sure you'll ever find anyone more passionate about pizza than Sal Russo. The primo pizzaiolo for Goodfellas Old World Brick Oven & Pasta in Staten Island, N.Y., is a pizza shill nonpareil.

At NAPICS, I moderated a President's Panel, which I opened by asking questions about low-carb pizzas and big-chain product rollouts. About 15 minutes into the session, Sal raised his hand. Thinking he wanted to ask a question, I motioned him toward a microphone, but Sal didn't want it or need it. Instead, he turned not to the presidents on the dais, but to the 150 operators in attendance, and began an impromptu speech about great pizza being the center of the business—not the latest fads or products. In a Brooklyn accent as bold and thick as a Bolognese sauce, Russo said, "It ain't about all that. It's about pizza."

Having known Sal for a few years, I know he's a talker and I moved to reel him in so we could get back on track, but it wasn't easy. (His boss, E. Jay Meyers, one of the four presidents on the panel, later told me, "When I saw Sal stand up, I looked at the other [Goodfella's] guys down there like, 'Hurry, somebody grab Sal!'") When Sal gets rolling, he's gone. He also hides nothing. Though his pizza is reportedly former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani's favorite, Sal could never be like his politician customer. He readily dispenses 100-proof opinions on everything pizza-related, and in this age of polished-for-press statements, that's refreshing. He's a quote machine, every reporter's dream.

Later that day, I sat in on the Pizza Women's Roundtable. No, it wasn't some cutesy "caring and sharing among us girls" session. The discussion was about running strong operations—yes, from a women's perspective—while balancing family and business.

Jodi Aufdencamp (I know her name keeps popping up in my commentaries, but when you find a good example, you use it), co-owner of Mama Mimi's Take 'n Bake Pizza said passion for the pizza business gets her out of bed every day and will keep her at it 10 years from now. "I know now what I'll be doing then: serving customers, because I love it."

Michelle Burt (Spanky's Pizza) and Debbie Antoun (Taranto's Pizza), her fellow "pizza divas," as they were dubbed, said much the same, but about employees rather than customers. Burt, a mother and a full-time operator, said mixing motherhood and management successfully is a matter of hiring others with the same needs and goals.

Antoun has learned to balance home and work needs by taking three days off a week, and then working the other four at full speed, open to close. She's passionate about food and family and is fulfilled by both halves of her life.

Interestingly, none said they had gargle testosterone to make it in the male-dominated pizza industry, rather, like so many males before them, they all said that love of great food and people drives them.

Is anyone surprised?

Movie madness

Here's proof somebody needs a day job. An upcoming film documentary, "Super Size Me," centers on filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's consumption of McDonald's food exclusively for 30 days and details the consequential decline in his health.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Spurlock gains 25 pounds on the McDiet, endures wild mood swings and fields warnings from doctors about his rising cholesterol levels and liver toxicity.

This riveting and surely meaningful masterpiece—ahem—is due for release in late May.

John Banzhaf III, the much-reviled (at least by me) law professor at George Washington University Law School, who is working to spearhead lawsuits against the restaurant industry, told the Tribune that Spurlock's movie proves if you eat at McDonald's frequently, you may have problems.

This shows just how much hype and how little science and research Banzhaf (and his cadre of shysters bent on ripping off the restaurant industry) puts into his lawyering. He hasn't even seen the movie, and he doesn't even know if Spurlock's own claims of eating only McDonald's foods are true, and yet he concludes it proves that McDonald's food endangers a person's health.

All that proves, Mr. Banzhaff, is you know how to keep the billable hours meter running at your office.

McDonald's spokespersons remain adamant that the nation's obesity problems are not only complex but in most cases come down to consumers' eating choices.

"This is really not about McDonald's. It's more about personal responsibility," Cathy Kapica, McDonald's director of worldwide nutrition, told the Tribune. Balance in Spurlock's diet is lacking, said another source in the piece, while another said the film appears to be a long-play version of Spurlock's old MTV show, "I Bet You Will." The show was about people doing almost anything for money, and regularly included shows involving eating stunts.

When McDonald's announced this week it would quit offering Super Size fries and drinks, some wondered if it was responding to lawsuit threats by Banzhaf, et al., and to the potential reaction to "Super Size Me." Truth is, the company said, only 5 percent of its customers Super Size their meals, and that its store operators will be thankful to free up space required for the extra packaging.

Spin or sincere answer? I'll let you be the judge.

Meantime, join the hundreds of others who've signed PizzaMarketplace's online petition to support legislation that will prohibit frivolous obesity-related lawsuits against the foodservice industry. Click here for more information.

Topics: Commentary , Independent Operation

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