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.


  1. john m7:12 AM

    We finally completely stopped going there about a year ago because of the service. I think I said the F-word on the way out, too :) With Mary Angela', Joe's, and Carrini's all serving up great food, we haven't missed the Piccola's experience.

  2. you have me torn now... I want to try their pizza, yet i can't stand poor service...hmmm... but i feel your frustration with poor service, there is no excuse...

  3. Silence is complicity. Awesome. Too many people don't say anything when something's wrong and the problems continue.

    I had an embarassing run-in with the owner of Padow's over his employees being just about the most hateful people on earth. The f-bomb was dropped and I've never been back. But hey, you can get better sandwiches alotta places.

    Sorry to hear that great pizza has to come via assholes.

  4. Anonymous12:32 PM

    A long time ago, when I was just visiting Richmond and trying to decide if I wanted to move here, I visited Piccola's half-drunk after a concert for some late night grub. I was thankful for their simple but heavenly slices.

    I quickly learned though, that pizza delivery from Piccola's was not nearly as good in quality control.
    I think my best experience in delivery from Piccola's was some hot grinders while stuck at work.

    I am not defending any assholism by bosses, and I have known people who worked there who had some problems with their management, though I personally never had a beef. I guess what I am saying is Piccola's is decent pizza onsite, and will always have a college following, but leave the delivery to someplace that cares.

    I miss American Pie that was briefly over by the Jefferson on Main. Now days my wife and I usually order pizza delivery from the neighborhood standard, Mojo's, or we pick up pizza from Asante.

  5. Thanks for the validation, guys. I suspected that this kind of experience was fairly widespread. Anyhow, I never intended to write a "food service blog." I'm compelled by flavors and technique and I understand that distasteful personalities often originate the best grub. To that end, I want to direct your attention to the December issue of Richmond Magazine. Their spread on pizza in Richmond illuminates the diversity of styles and flavors of this staple dinner food. If I had it in mind to boycott Piccola's, I'd have plenty of inspiring options to choose from in the Richmond mag feature. However, I plan to keep eating Piccola's pizza (Mary Angela's cannot duplicate the eggplant parm pizza). And if they keep screwing up their product with arrogance and attitude, then I hope that their customers will make their voices heard.

    Link to the pizza teaser:

  6. Anonymous12:50 PM

    "And if they keep screwing up their product with arrogance and attitude, then I hope that their customers will make their voices heard."

    They obviously don't care about their customers' opinions.

    That's bad business, which bothers me more than anything else about the situation. There's no good reason to support places that refuse to do the right thing for themselves and their customers.

    You should humbly honor his wishes and stop bothering him with your valuable steady business.

  7. Jack Newtown3:03 PM

    Seriously, dude, with Mary Angela's and now Arianna's open in reasonable proximity, there's no reason to put up with the shittiness that is Piccola.

  8. The Pizza Nazi11:06 AM

    No pizza for you!

  9. I'm glad this post got so many hits. At first, my inclination was to reject the owner's suggestion that my business isn't welcome and I figured I'd just pick up my eggplant parm pizza out of spite and defiance (silly, I know). However, in hindsight, there are plenty of pizza places without the baggage of this negative experience. Here's my short pizza todo list:

    Crusty's Pizza (on Main, near VCU)
    Appolo's (on W. Broad)
    Superstar's (on Patterson)
    Jo-Jo's Pizza (E. Main, downtown)
    Brick Oven Pizza (off Forrest Hill)
    Italian Kitchen (Mechanicsville)

    And lastly, charcoal grilled pizza from scratch on my little cast iron grill is one of my favorite recipes. So, life goes on...

  10. On the advice of a friend tried a place called 8 1/2 on Strawberry St tonight. No website, no delivery, couldn't find the number in the phone book, called said friend and got the number and basically guessed at the order. Well worth the drive. Damn fine pizza and carbonara.

  11. You're right it was way too long. Sorry for your troubles.

  12. I've had a few 8 1/2 pizzas and they're great. For the price, the size kinda bothers me, but every bite is fantastic, so what can ya do? Maybe a smaller pizza would give me a smaller tummy.

  13. Anonymous7:50 AM

    look this is the "diet" i told you about you should really enter the site :) bye enter the site

  14. Great story. I don't know how many people know this, but I believe Mary Angela's, Piccola's, Pronto's and I think Maldini's are all owned by the same person. They all have great pizza too. But I've only experienced the slow service at Piccola's.

    I may have a solution for you...Frank's on Southside/Frank's West on Patterson serves up some of the best NY pizza I've ever had. And this is coming from someone who moved here from NY at age 24. Try it, you'll be hooked!

  15. well Mary Angelas is owned by the same person if i am not mistaken.
    but i don't think Piccola's is one of the best pizza places
    there are better ones like
    8 1/2 on strawberry street
    pizza place on main street
    bottoms up
    an a couple others too
    but 8 1/2 is really really good

  16. WOW. Seriously? That's batshit crazy. I don't think I would have known what to do if the delivery driver had come back to MY apartment.

    I avoid Piccola's because I like things when I want them and I have no patience to wait around. ;) (Also, I do not have enough numbers in my cell phone). ;)

    Plus, even though it's a 25 minute bus ride for me, I prefer Arriana's. ;)

  17. Anonymous3:31 PM

    Terrants has great pizza. Best north of the River.

  18. Tarrant's/Tarrantino's has the best pizza in Richmond. I've been trumpeting this opinion every chance I get.

  19. Nicole9:06 PM

    I hope they are never late with your pizza. You'd lay 'em out with a few choice words, well 1,534 to be exact.

  20. Ever since writing this, I've been totally gun-shy with the critical beatdowns. I don't wanna get pigeon holed as a one note blogger. It's been a year, and I've tried a few other approaches. Maybe it's time to fly off the handle again. Shoot, I thinkn I'll make a drink and hatch some plans for stirrin' up trouble.

  21. Nicole9:53 AM

    Drunk with Power, your reading public awaits.


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