After proving my prowess and mettle as a Road Warrior, Phone Jerk, Skin Flinger, Pizza Maker and Oven Tender I had earned enough merits to be considered a graduate of the company management training program and officially labeled Assistant Manager in Waiting. But I didn’t have to wait very long before the manager in a nearby store decided to move on, his assistant was promoted to Manager and I was offered the Assistant Manager position. I took it, of course.
This one was a new store: in a strip mall. The store where I had trained had been the company’s very first store; built in what had been a big old house. Compared to the first, the new store was a marvel of modern design and efficiency. Totally lacking in character, but very modern.
As the official Assistant Manager, I was doing all the same things I’d been doing for some months as a trainee, none of that was new. But my manager, Terry, was not much of an over achiever and he was happy to let me expand my training by taking over much of what should have been his job. And I was happy to do so because it gave me an edge on other Assistants who would be looking for The Big Chair when an opportunity came.
I was a bit surprised by the change in attitude toward me of the female employees. Of course, these were not the same employees I had been working with before, so maybe the change was due to more to location than my job duties. But it sure seemed that once I became the one setting the work schedule and tracking the information used to decide pay raises, the girls were quite a bit more flirtatious and solicitous toward me. Not that I minded – I like pretty girls just fine – but I’m afraid it didn’t get them much of what they wanted. When it comes to business and integrity, I can be a veritable rock! I’d make a lousy politician.
Skullduggery and Collusion
There came a day when Terry asked me to come in early; he wanted to discuss something with me before the crew started to arrive. I figured it was time for personnel reviews and thought no more about it. When I arrived, Terry asked me to lock the door behind me. The lights were all off except for the office, and he closed the office door to keep the light in. This seemed a bit too clandestine for personnel reviews – and it was.
Terry had a brother-in-law who was a business investor. His brother-in-law thought the delivery pizza industry was about to explode and he wanted to get in on it. He had offered to fund a start-up operation if Terry would over-see it. Terry wanted me to come along.
They had already done the demographic study and had decided on a college town in Wisconsin where only one other delivery pizza joint was operating. They wanted to build a commissary store (where the foodstuffs for pizza making are produced) as their anchor. Once it is established, they’d build other stores that would be supplied by the commissary. Terry would become the Area Manager, I’d be the commissary Manager. As they expanded further, Terry would take a corporate position and I’d become the Area Manager. And we’d all get rich.
Naturally, this had to be done secretly.
To cut to the chase: I agreed. Terry quit first, I became the Store Manager and waited until Terry and his B.I.L. found and secured a suitable store building, ordered the equipment and bought a fleet of delivery cars. When they were ready, they sent for me. I resigned and dropped off the radar.
I arrived to find an empty building in need of renovation. That would be my first task, since I was good at woodworking and knew something about construction. Terry would see to equipment delivery and storage. I needed to work quickly so we could get the equipment installed and functioning. I spent many, very long days framing up walls, hanging and taping drywall, painting and installing flooring. They did have a plumber and electrician do the parts that required formal safety inspections. A few weeks later trucks began bringing the equipment in and the Tradesmen did the installations. While they were doing that I was getting cars set up, placing help wanted ads and working on the recipes for dough and sauce. Terry and B.I.L. decided to avoid legal hassles with Pizza World by not stealing their exact recipes or using their paperwork. I could use their general form layout and make our own that would work even better.
It turned out that our store was built across the street from a couple of unique shops. One was a Greek Deli that served the most amazing gyros. Next door to them was a fresh herb shop that offered greenhouse grown herbs all year long. I also located a market where locally grown vegetables were offered. They cost a little more than crates of green peppers and onions from a food service company, but the quality was much better. I put on my chef’s hat and went to work.
The dough was pretty much a standard pizza dough except that I used a whole grain flour instead of the bleached white flour. Health-food was just starting to gather support and college students seemed to be leading the parade.
The sauce used fresh chopped oregano, thyme and rosemary. The cheese was a bend of Mozzarella and Monterrey Jack with just a bit of mild cheddar thrown in to help it brown nicely and have a slightly unique flavor.
Terry took care of advertising and promotional materials. I interviewed, hired, and trained the employees. Terry had already adopted the title Area Manager, even though we had only one store. So I was officially the Store Manager. Therefore it was my job to do the scheduling, the food ordering, the inventory tracking, the payroll, the bank deposits, in short… pretty much everything. Terry would come through every night for a few hours to sit in the office and make long distance phone calls. He did help out when things started getting busy until I got pizza makers trained well enough to be of genuine help.
I also ran the commissary, so I needed to be in the store increasingly early to make the food stuffs we would need to make the pizzas, then I stayed all night to run the store. Terry came in once a week to give me a night off, but I often worked from 10:00 AM until 2:00 AM 6 days a week. And I was on a salary, so I got no overtime.
This was rough, but Terry and B.I.L. kept dangling the carrot of big success and shares of the company profits once we made it big. I just needed to be a team player until then. They were big on that “team” thing. And it sounded good when they gave the speech, but then the two of them would pile into B.I.L.’s big Mercedes and disappear leaving me to do all the work. Some team!
Six months or so after we opened, the campus newspaper had their annual Pizza Poll where the students voted on their favorite pizza joints. As I said, we only had one serious competitor; a few of the restaurants would deliver a pizza, but it was not their focus so they were slow and the pie was generally cold when it got there, so Pizza Demon (not their real name) had been the undisputed champions of pizza delivery for many years. Until now.
When the paper came out I was totally shocked. We swept the field by taking top awards for fastest delivery, consistently hot delivery, and best tasting pizza. We even beat out the Italian restaurant, another perennial favorite, for best tasting.
Our business had been steadily increasing over the past months, but now it skyrocketed. This was actually a bad thing because we were overloaded. I was begging drivers to come in for extra days and use their own cars, and still, delivery times were getting long and people began to complain. Then things settled down again and we hit our stride. Once again business began a slow steady increase that we could schedule for, hiring more staff as needed. The store was doing great. Maybe too great.
A Kick in the Teeth
One slow evening Terry and B.I.L. came in and asked me to come into the office with them. The store was doing so well now that they had decided we don’t need satellite stores. We are so centrally located that we could get the whole campus area just fine, and the residential areas don’t seem interested enough to support stores in those areas. We’re going to stick with just the one store. Terry will step in as Store Manager, I will keep Commissary Manager and step down to Assistant Manager in the store – with a commensurate cut in pay, of course.
This did not sit well with me.
I’ll spare you the gory details and summarize the outcome. I went job hunting; found an opening with a local publishing company that printed three newspapers, a couple dozen magazines and Vanity Press style books. Making this change was the best thing I could have done for it opened so many doors to me as a writer and author, it really was the beginning of it all. Once I was safely away, I filed suit against Terry and B.I.L. with the Department of Labor for minimum wage violation. There are limits on how many hours you can be expected to work even when on salary. And when the number of hours worked divided into the wages received doesn’t come out at least to minimum wage, then laws have been broken. The Dept. of Labor was appalled when I showed them my time records and pay slips. In time I got a handsome settlement.
When I quit, several of the key people who had been working with me quit as well. I asked them not to – at least not to quit because of me. But they insisted that they just didn’t like Terry and didn’t want to work for someone who might do to them what he had done to me. I had built that store, hired and trained the excellent staff. My recipes made our product special. I won those awards, not Terry.
Others stayed because they needed the job, but they kept in touch with me. It wasn’t going well. Terry dropped all the fresh, local produce and went to food service goods. He was using canned sauce, and white flour in the dough. He was cutting staffing to save money and delivery times were getting long. Terry was trying to increase revenues by cutting corners, but each time he cut a corner, customers walked out. The quality just wasn’t there anymore.
A year after I left, the store closed up. I wasn’t surprised.
I, on the other hand, had just been promoted to Production Manager over the entire publishing company and the owner was trying to convince the Managing Editor and I to throw in together and buy him out so he could retire. I liked the idea of becoming co-owner of a successful publishing company. Did I do it? Well, that’s a tale for another time.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this series of tales on The Adventures of Pizza Dude.