I'm from a New York Italian community where pizza is a way of life. I'll take on anyone and debate the merits of crust, sauce, cheese blend, hand tossing, oven styles, fresh or canned mushrooms, anchovies, or any other topic or topping. I know good pizza; I value good pizza.
But I have a dirty little secret: one of my covert indulgences is by no means "good pizza." No, indeed gas station pizza is quite the opposite. You've seen it at nearly every mini mart you've ever been to … heated up behind the counter from a frozen package, with ingredients that are definitely not fresh, with dough that is definitely not hand tossed, kept in a little glass warmer next to the scratch-off dispenser with leftover breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil scattered along side it on the not-washed-in-a-while round metal rotating trays, and usually served by a clerk with a dirty shirt and smoker's breath on a paper plate entirely too small for the slice so it flops over the edges onto the stained, ancient Formica counter. It's really quite disgusting. But it's also really quite delicious!
I eat gas station pizza entirely too often. Though, in my defense, I don’t have many dinner options on my way home from work. I close my shop at 6pm, often have evening pickups or deliveries to do afterward for my clients, and then start on my hour drive home. The roads between Ithaca and Endwell are not exactly bustling with commerce, and despite my best intentions I don't always have healthy snacks packed for the ride to sustain me until I get home. So, when I just can't hold out, my quick on-the-road dining options consist of an old Burger King (which I've vowed never to go back to after the manager felt that the appropriate response to a friendly request for extra sweet and sour sauce was to use obscenities before berating me) or one of half a dozen mini marts along the road for a hot dog, a sausage, or a slice of pizza.
Last night, exhausted and entirely too verklempt to think about cooking, I stopped at my favorite mini mart for a couple of slices. To my delight, one of my favorite clerks was working: a very friendly fella, probably in his mid-20s, in wide legged skater style baggy pants, wearing oversized untucked shirt, inked on every limb, with sagging holes in his ears where enormous gauges once were, and consistently sporting the cheeriest demeanor in that little town.
They had only three pieces of pizza left in the display case: one very crusty slice of three-meat and two less crusty but still way past their prime slices of pepperoni. So I asked for the two pepperoni, and my favorite clerk looked at me with a little side eye and asked me if I was sure. When I told him that I was, he insisted on giving me a side of ranch "to soften them up a little bit." I expressed my gratitude, to which he responded, "That's how you run a good business … keep people coming back!"
He was spot on.
I go to this mini mart over the other ones because their pizza is usually decent. I go there because their clerks—this one in particular—are often very friendly. I go there because I feel appreciated as a customer. But last night, the pizza wasn't fresh; it wasn't good. I really kind of had to choke it down, dipping it in ranch, and loathing myself a little bit more with each bite. And the clerk was up front about the substandard pizza before he sold it to me, knowing what I had come to expect there. So he did something above and beyond to help make it better, knowing that that if he couldn't provide his best product he could still provide his best service … and keep me coming back.
#CustomerService #KeepPeopleComingBack #GasStationPizza #DirtyLittleSecret
Also published on the AMBC blog on July 26, 2017.