Dollar Pizza Reconsidered

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Hey, the pizza here is really good!


A thought-provoking piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Sophia Hollander ("Economics, Sliced") bemoaned the decline of the neighborhood pizza slice, especially in Manhattan, and blamed it pretty squarely on the dollar slice joints, also fingering gourmet pizzerias with elevated prices in passing. We learn, for example, that there are 12 2 Bros. pizzerias in the borough, plus nine owned by 99-cent-Fresh-Pizza, with more to follow. I disagree with four of the article's salient points and implications: 1) that the dollar slice places are the biggest culprit in the decline; 2) that it is principally Manhattan pizzerias that are affected; 3) that the dollar slices are necessarily a bad thing; and 4) that the neighborhood pizzeria is in mortal danger.


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Many of the dollar-pizza offerings are quite spare and unadorned, as with these two pies at 99-cent-Fresh-Pizza on Sixth Avenue.


The neighborhood pizza parlor as a phenomenon dates to the post-WWII era, as the article makes clear, when gas ovens made it possible to reheat slices. (And when a lot of operators, many returning veterans, could suddenly afford to buy the ovens and get started in the pizza business.) At the time, Italian food meant Italian-American food, a red-sauced entity that had originated in New York and other cities near the end of the 19th century. Pizza as we know it was invented at Lombardi's on Spring Street a little before 1900, and these new 1950s neighborhood pizza parlors carried the earlier coal-oven traditions forth with gas ovens. Many of these ovens bore the name Bari--the capital of Apulia in southern Italy, and the name of the company that pioneered the gas pizza oven.

During the latter half of the 20th century, neighborhood pizzerias flourished, and "two slices and a Coke" became a standard working-person's lunch in nearly every corner of the city. Its main competition was provided by deli sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs from carts, or something brown-bagged from home. But as immigrants from other cultures streamed in, different forms of plebeian food emerged. In many parts of town, you could soon get falafels, street-cart curries, tacos, and, from Korean vegetables stands, hot dishes, salads, and sushi. The working-class palate was expanding, and pizza was joined by dozens of other opportunities for a cheap lunch.

National pizza chains like Little Caesar's and Domino's have had a profound impact on the marketplace, mainly with discounted pies that can retail, with toppings, for as little as $5. Other national franchises like McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell also invaded post-1980, accelerating their efforts during the Bloomberg era and being joined by many other franchises. Over the long run, these national franchises have reduced the number of customers for local pizza parlors much more than dollar slice places have done.

I started noticing a decline in the number of pizzerias in other boroughs about 10 years ago. The same factors--nationally franchised restaurants, other types of cheap lunches--were already decimating their numbers, especially in traditional Italian strongholds from Bensonhurst to Corona. It was in poorer neighborhoods with few economic opportunities for restaurateurs that pizzerias remained strong.


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At one point last year, the price of a single slice had sunk as low as 75 cents.


Location Info

Percy's Pizza

190 Bleecker St., New York, NY

Category: Restaurant

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15 comments
mbodayle
mbodayle

Great article. The only 99-center I've tried is St. Mark's which I didn't care for at all. I will invest a buck and try Percy's next time I am in the city though. I do agree that the price of a slice has gotten out of hand.

www.thepizzasnob.net

Fukk Mayor Bloomberg
Fukk Mayor Bloomberg

pizza cost like 89 cents a pie to make. fuck these places that started charging 3.50-5.00 a slice. they got too greedy.

Christopher Brown
Christopher Brown

Two Brothers started the $1 slice and it's better than Rays. (Rays was good years ago, but I bought from them about a year ago, and it was crap!

Anthony Crupi
Anthony Crupi

No. If you want cheap garbage(or that's all you can afford) then more power to ya. If you want a little more quality you'll spend a little more $$.

Carlos E Cruz Jr
Carlos E Cruz Jr

i'd rather pay up for quality rather than pay $1 for absolute caca. there are those of us who care about what we put in our bodies and who we give our money to. don't like it? start making your own pizza, and do it better. just don't decide your pizza is good enough to open your own place because you'll realize you won't be charging $1 for it.

PeBe KaFeen
PeBe KaFeen

Pizza is a poor family dish. Sicilia of Italia, this is a homemade food that quite naturally uses the basic essentials to create.This is not about authentic export, import goods used to make it or incorporating classic baking crafts to brick oven's. The 'Slice' should had never became a $2.50 or more fast food that you will find no bargain in. $1 slice on the move and a Arizona or a can soda is a pocket friendly combo that has no enemies. The $1 pizza is also a nice way to begin a restaurant business in locations that suffer of such convenience. Yes, you have your institutions and the people who love it for generations. But now your pocket speaks in languages of what simple can be according to the dollar. Example: I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn. There is a pizza spot across the street from the Church ave. Train station that has been there for years with slices at 2.50 and sicilian slices at 3.00...the difference is shape not quantity or quality...Currently, a new shop pops up a few degrees across the street from the neighborhood pizzeria that is making a killing on $1 slices and they do what all the 'grease spots' do. Burgers, Heroes, Gyro, fries etc. The climb in the patriotism of the new spot over the neighborhood one is phenomena. In just weeks they managed to offer you a shorter distance for the same cravings and less expensive even doing some things with pies at $12 that cause $18 and upwards at the classic pizza shops. It's business. It's smart. It's fair. It's more for the people and that's how you stay in business. $1 slices rule and i still can go to a movie (Matinee)...LOL>

jonathan.nyc
jonathan.nyc topcommenter

Traditionally, the subway fare moves in parallel with the cost of a pizza slice, so maybe a fare reduction is in the works! 

Julia Noël Goldman
Julia Noël Goldman

The price of pizza in this city has skyrocketed to an insane level, even in regular neighborhood places. Dollar pizza allows your average person to afford pizza for lunch. And helps someone like me avoid walking out of a pizza place screaming "Three dollars for a slice of plain pizza?!?!?!?!?!?!"

Arthur H. Simpson
Arthur H. Simpson

Why does the city allow a big piece of red plastic crap like that exist on the sidewalk anyway?

Natali Wind
Natali Wind

No because people will always want good pizza and while dollar joints are good when you're drunk, nothing replaces a neighborhood pizza place like Joe's, Bleeker St Pizza or Numero 28!

JFeeTV
JFeeTV

@VoiceStreet There's a market for both. The $1 model makes it harder to overcharge for average pizza. ($5 Artichoke slices still a success)

benrossen
benrossen

@robertsietsema Agree. Lots of Original-Ray's-type joints also aren't good, serving up lousy $4 slices. 2 bros. won't hurt vinny vincenz.

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