Friday, December 14, 2007

My Fight with Piccola's Owner

After years of eating Piccola’s pizza, tonight, the owner told me not to order from him any more. It all started at 6:08pm when I ordered my usual eggplant parmesan pizza. For a medium, the price was $15.27 before tip. The guy on the phone said it would be 25 minutes. Of course, I should know better. (if this piece seems too long, hang in there for the action-packed epilogue)

Piccola’s is notoriously slow. You can go in and ask for a slice of cheese pizza and wait 10-15 minutes after paying. During that time, you'll pace back and forth, thinking of people to call on your cell phone and you’ll probably wonder why they don’t shove your simple single slice into the oven before assembling the other guy’s six topping extra large pie. No, silly. Instead, they’ll just put the ticket for your order in line behind all the others. And eventually, your blood will probably boil at a temperature rivaling that oven behind the counter that still doesn’t have your slice of pizza in it.

Now, I know that I’m a fussy customer. It’s me who is obsessive about knit-picky details that other’s pay little mind about. And I often don’t know when to let well enough alone. Nonetheless, there are some standard practices and common decency that I hope will endure at the places I like to eat. Although I really prefer to write foodie raves, tonight’s experience amounts to a complaint that must be heard by someone, because, well, I've already gone through the proper channels.

When my pizza hadn’t come by 7pm, I started waiting on the porch. Eventually, I went inside and picked up the phone to see if it was coming at all. The phone said I had called Piccola’s at 6:08 and it was 7:08 when I called them to check on my order. The young lady who answered didn’t know about the status of the pizza and put me on hold. Eventually, a brusk sounding deep voice appeared on the line. He checked my address against the order and said the pizza was on its way. Then, before hanging up, he said, “It’s been 50 minutes.” Excuse me? “You said it’s been over an hour, but it’s only been 50 minutes.” Um... Okay. After hanging up I went back to the porch and wondered if there was any way that he could be right and me wrong or if it mattered either way. I concluded that it didn’t matter. That pizza just better not be cold.

About 5 minutes later, a delivery guy in a VCU sweatshirt brought the pizza and I tipped $2, figuring that there’s no sense in punishing the messenger. Carrying the box into the kitchen, I could feel that the bottom was not the temperature that usually indicates a piping hot pie awaits inside. Regardless, my wife and I were feeling ravenous, so I plated a couple slices and asked Karen if she wanted me to heat hers up. We both took bites. Yup. Too cold.

I put half the pie in the oven and wondered if I should complain. I played it all out briefly in my mind and then convinced myself that I would be doing Piccola’s a disservice if I didn’t bring the cold pizza to their attention (seriously though, silence is complicity) . Stifling any hint of attitude or self-righteousness, I informed the young lady who picked up the phone at Piccola's that my pizza arrived cold. She apologized and said they’re breaking in a new delivery guy.

“Well, I tipped him anyways. That brought the bill to $17.27 for a medium pizza and it's cold.”

“Sorry.” She clearly hadn't been given any pointers in customer service .

“That’s it? No coupons or refunds or anything?”

“I can’t do anything. Do you want to speak to the owner?”

“He was kinda rude last time. You don't have a process for correcting mistakes?”

“I dunno and I can’t tell him that because he’s my boss.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to him.”

While I’m on hold I pictured the boxed pizzas and bagged subs that Piccola’s piles up on top of their oven while they put other aspects of their service ahead of bringing you your food. I’ve stood at their counter countless times watching my slice of cheese pizza languishing in a brown paper bag on top of that oven – the staff too busy taking orders and making pizzas to hand it to me. Like today, I would contemplate asking if my pizza was ready (knowing it was) or just waiting for someone to decide it was time to call out my number. Tonight, I'm willing to bet that my pizza sat in that pile until the delivery guy had four orders ready to be delivered. Then, he brought mine last. Just an educated guess.

The owner picked up.

“Hey, I called to check on my pizza a few minutes ago.”

“Yeah, eggplant parmesan pizza. You said it was over an hour, but it was only 50 minutes.”

“Well, the pizza was cold when it got here and I thought that I should tell somebody.”

“If you want a refund, then I'll come to your house and take the pizza back. Is that what you want?”

“No, I just wanted someone there to know that there was a problem with my order because I got a cold pizza and it took an hour.”

“That’s not possible. We deliver them in a bag that keeps them hot.” He's clearly getting louder and angrier.

“I know. But it was cold and now I’m putting it into the…”

“It’s not possible that the pizza is cold.”

“Are you serious? I think I know a cold pizza when… look it’s right here in front of me.”

“The pizza is not cold. You are wrong.”

Uhhhhh… what happened to the customer is always right?”

“The customer is not always right, because I know how to run my business.”

“Well, your business brought me a cold pizza. Now, you had no problem taking my money and now you should be able to accept some feedback.”

“I don’t have to listen to you and I would appreciate it if you didn’t order from us any more.”

I sigh and shake my head. “Naw. Fuck you, man.” And I hung up - instantly regretting the F-bomb.

Deep breath.

That’s the story - warts and all. I didn’t hide anything from you (probably should've), nor am I proud of every moment that transpired. I’m sure some of you will take issue with my approach to this situation, while others will wonder how Piccola’s stays in business (answer: best pizza in town). You might see two bulls in a field, squaring off over a little thing they both claim for their own: an arrogant ownership of food rights and wrongs. I just see a story that should be told. NY style pizza with NY style 'tude. Stop the presses. Good pizza, bad service. Not exactly breaking news.

Karen comes in the kitchen and gives me a big hug (being careful of her protruding 5 month baby bump. “That sucks, Jase. You were right though.” Thanks, babe.

An hour later, Karen and I have eaten half of the pizza (although the bad taste in my mouth from dealing with the owner really ruined it along with the effects of reheating) and we’re on the couch watching a movie. There’s a light knock at the door. Is it the owner, coming to pay me back for my four letter word? Oh shit, I’m in my socks. You can’t fight in socks. I'll slip. It’s gotta be either bare feet or shoes. Should I put on shoes? Should I take off my socks? Oh wait! I’m a pacifist. I’ve never fought anyone in my life. Besides, he won’t try anything on my property. I can do anything to him I want, if he’s in my house. Where's my baseball bat? Hey, pacifist! Chill out!

I open the door. It’s the delivery guy. The owner sent him back to my house to pick up the pizza in exchange for a refund. This guy clearly felt awkward returning an hour later and asking me for a pizza. He quickly clarified that he was just the messenger in this dispute. I told him that we didn’t have a whole pizza left, only half of it and that we had heated it up in the oven. "Do you want that?" He didn’t. I told him I was sorry that I had caused him to come back to my house for no reason. Then I explained, “Look, I called and tried to tell the owner that the pizza was cold and he was a total jerk about it. I hope he treats his employees better than he does his customers.” The guy just shrugged and said that this was his first day as a pizza delivery guy and went back to his car. (lesson #1: deliver hot pizzas.)

Before restarting the movie, Karen expressed her disbelief. “What, do they think we’re just gonna stare at the pizza for an hour?” I dunno, babe. Then I asked her, “Umm, who’s ego is fueling this dispute right now?”

“Well, he seems to want to have the last word.”

“Yeah. So do I, babe.”

So do I.