Undercover Pizza Lover Part II: Domino’s Delivery Boy

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I don’t have many photos of this job since it was 100% undercover.

Delivering pizza has never been a career goal of mine. I suppose it’s a good gig for a college student, but those days have passed. It has always seemed like a unique job, and certainly a position of some significance since over 1 billion pizzas are delivered in the United States every year. To learn more about this corner of the pizza industry I had to go undercover with the industry leader, a company with a great history of success and failure that just so happens to be riding a tall wave at the moment. After filling out an online application, interviewing with the manager, and producing all necessary ID and insurance information, I was hired as a part-time delivery driver at a Domino’s in Brooklyn. None of my co-workers had any idea that I spend my days leading tours to NYC’s top pizzerias and I liked keeping that secret to myself. After all, I was there to learn about delivery from the perspective of the person ringing the doorbell.

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If nothing else, I expected a massive company like Domino’s to be extremely organized. Incorrect. After a detailed online interview process, the seemingly tight structure of the organization seemed to slip into utter chaos, with a mandatory orientation that felt like its purpose was to satisfy a district manager rather than introduce trainees to the company and its methods. But I made it through and signed up for a shift the next night, figuring I’d be doing some training. Wrong again. With little more instruction than “bring people their food and then come back,” I went out on my first delivery. Maybe this isn’t the most complicated job ever, but I would have liked some guidance about how to conduct the transaction. Oh well, I guess I’ll just learn on the job.

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Day 1

My first delivery didn’t go too smoothly. I forgot the credit card receipt and a 2 liter bottle of soda. I had no option other than to run back to the Big D for the missing goods and get back on the road. If the “30 minutes or it’s free” guarantee hadn’t been nixed due to several major auto accidents in the 1990s, I would have been in deep doo-doo. Every order comes with a tag that lets the driver know what to deliver, the street address, and an estimated time of delivery. That time is calculated based on when the order was placed, and how many orders are in the system. Guarantee or not, there’s a lot of pressure with that estimated delivery time staring back at you. I found myself driving like a madman, but it seemed necessary if I wanted to get back to home base to grab the next order.

Shift length: 6 hours
Total deliveries: 15
Average tip: $2.53

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Searching for New York’s Hidden Coal Ovens

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My journey into one of NYC’s salvaged bakery ovens.

The subject of coal-burning ovens seems to be popping up a lot lately and I have a feeling it’s at least partially because of the recent Grimaldi’s relocation. To sum it up, Grimaldi’s recently moved up the block from its original location after lease problems with their landlord but had to leave the oven behind. Not a huge problem because all they had to do was to build another one in the new location. This sent the press and public into a tizzy because, even though I covered the history of coal-fired ovens just a few months back, people still believe the myth that they are on the endangered species list. The fact is that New York City has more coal-burning ovens than it knows what to do with.

Coal ovens come in several formats, but the oldest are the cavernous mason-built bread ovens from the turn of last century. These beasts are so massive that they were either built out into a building’s back yard or into the foundation itself, extending beyond the building’s footprint. When a bakery went out of business, it was much easier (and cheaper) to slap a wall in front of the oven than doing any kind of demolition. This means that old bakery ovens are very likely still in place, just waiting to be discovered. Here’s a quick rundown of five dormant coal-burning ovens in New York.

Patsy’s Pizzeria
Everybody knows that Patsy’s has been making some of the city’s best pizza in a coal-burning oven since 1933, but not many are aware of the huge bakery oven in the basement of 2287 1st Ave. I only learned about it recently while talking to one of the owners about the history of the building. East Harlem became an Italian enclave in the early 20th century and this block was comparable to Manhattan’s Mulberry Street and the Bronx’s Arthur Ave at the time.

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NYC took a photo of every building for tax assessment between 1939 and 1941. Patsy’s is indicated by the white arrow.

As indicated by the building’s tax photo (circa 1940), the restaurant with the apron-clad man outside was flanked by a cheese maker, butcher and bakery. Reverse directories that let you look up a building’s occupant by address don’t go earlier than 1929, but I have a feeling Patsy’s location was a bakery before it became a restaurant.

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Beneath Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem.

The adjacent Frank’s Bakery may have baked their breads in the oven beneath 2287 1st Ave for sale in their storefront one building down. This subterranean oven wouldn’t have been ideal for a pizzeria, so they shifted to a more compact unit that better suited their needs. Now the old oven sits waiting, but the building’s owners have no immediate plans to revive it.

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Slice Out Hunger - $1 Slices to Benefit City Harvest

Mark your calendars for the biggest, most awesome pizza party you’ve ever been to in your life. We’re collecting pizza from all the city’s top spots and selling it off for $1 per slice at a bar in Greenwich Village. All the money goes to City Harvest, NYC’s only food collection organization, so you’re helping others while feeding yourself.

DETAILS:
Thursday, June 9
Amity Hall
80 W 3rd Street (at Thompson)
6:30 - 10pm

Enjoy pizza from: Lombardi’s, DiFara, Grimaldi’s, Joe’s, John’s of Bleecker, Pizza Roma, Famous Ben’s, Slice, 900 Degrees, Two Boots, Luzzo’s, Artichoke, NY Pizza Suprema, Tosca, Pizza Box and MORE!!!

Raffle prizes from Serious Eats, Pizza a Casa, Coluccio & Sons, Chicago Pizza Tours, GAP Adventures, Trader Joe’s, NY Pizza Project, Busted Tees, Scott’s Pizza Tours, Real Pizza of NYC App plus your chance to win a pizza party for you and seven friends catered by Slice founder Adam Kuban!

Learn more at www.sliceouthunger.org or read about last year’s event at I Dream of Pizza.

Canned Tomato Taste Test Results

The results of our first blind taste test of 16 canned tomatoes have been posted on Slice! We tried a variety of tomatoes from local grocery stores, supermarkets, pizzerias and restaurant supply stores. Tasters include Roberto Caporuscio (Keste), Adam Kuban (Slice), Brooks Jones (Me, Myself and Pie), Jason Fierman (I Dream of Pizza), Nick Sherman (Pizza Rules) and tomato researcher Erica Mole.

Check Out The Results of Round 1

Check out this awesome article on Slice about my VERY first pizza tour! I can hardly believe it has been two years since the maiden voyage of the pizza bus. The whole thing started with a love of pizza, a bunch of awesome friends and a birthday party.

I was turning 26 and all I wanted to do was eat a ton of pizza with my buddies. My car only fits five people, and even that’s tight, so I started fishing around for buses to charter. We ended up with a school bus for five hours and hit six different pizzerias. There were almost thirty of us, so we placed orders while en route and took our pizza to go. We would finish our slice just as we rolled up to the next pizzeria. It was awesome. I even made everybody goody bags. After all, it was a birthday party!

Not much has changed since that first tour. The goody bags are fancier, we get to actually go inside the pizzerias, there is more detailed discussion of the science behind pizza, and I have a t-shirt with a logo on it. But the vibe is exactly the same. Every tour feels like a party.

If you were on that first tour, this article will crack you up. If you have taken a tour in the past two years, this article is the best explanation to the question everyone asks me: “How did you get started running pizza tours?”