An open letter to Aaron Spencer - Former Chairman of Pizzeria Uno

Last week, I had a visitor to an old post on the blog. Now, I’m not exactly sure how this gentleman happened to stumble across my blog, but he claimed to be Aaron Spencer – former CEO of Pizzeria Uno*. And Mr. Spencer took issue with some statements that I made about Pizzeria Uno – namely that I said that the original Pizzeria Uno (and Due) downtown were not affiliated with the chain store franchises out in the suburbs, and that I called the non-downtown stores “craptastic”.

Okay, Mr. Spencer. Assuming that it is actually you who visited my blog last week** () – we need to have a little chat. First, I want it to be stated that in no way am I upset that you stopped by and voiced your thoughts. I welcome debate and well-thought out discussion here, and while most of the time the discussion involves home repair, or “Wow, that chicken launcher is way weird” I’m not afraid to tackle serious topics as well.Second, I also do not believe that you are a corporate moron who is “waaaayyy off base” with what you said. Unlike many other bloggers out there, I have am MBA from the best business school in the solar system*** and understand that the market determines what is a success and what is not a success. Obviously, given how successful your restaurant chain has been you must have something worth while. If the pizza truly was horrible, nobody would eat it, right? But instead, you’ve been growing, and have been so successful that you were able to take the company private again and then sell it to what I can only assume is a hedge fund****. You have obviously done very well for yourself in this venture, for which I congratulate you!

That said, I need to help you understand what really is going on in the blog world, because I am concerned for you. It appears that you have misunderstood how blogs work and don’t realize that posting at random to give out the news of all the big changes at Uno Grill is a bad, BAD idea. You see, unlike TV and radio, blogs are not an unbiased platform for broadcasting a message to the masses. They are a narrowly focused, frequently highly opinionated channel that is usually ruled by a dictatorial fascist – the blogger himself. Anyone who tries to promote a message that doesn’t “gel” with that of the blogger will usually find himself either (at best) ridiculed by said blogger***** or (at worst) the victim of hackers bent on e-distruction. Don’t worry about me or my readers, they’re mostly old college friends, PhD’s in non-computer science fields, or desperate housewives. And I think there are only about 7 of them, at best.

Now, the other reason why posting at random in blog-comments is a bad idea is that your message – whatever it is – will be completely lost on 99% of them. In general, bloggers tend to be pretty opinionated people and you are not going to change their opinions. In fact by doing so you risk polarizing them even further because now you have made yourself into a "bloggable topic". And that is the worst thing you can do in cases like this.

Take me for example. I fell in love with Uno’s pizza when I first moved to Chicago. Sure, it was a lot of work to get it with all the waiting and the lines – but when I sat down and was presented with that slice of heaven it was maddenly good. And it still is today, but only at the original Uno and Due downtown. When I ate at one of the franchise locations it was all wrong. The pizza was served in only 40 minutes and it had cheese on top instead of tomato sauce – not the sort of experience or product that I go to Uno to get. I left that day swearing never to return to the wasteland that was a non-loop location, and I’m not breaking my word.

So, this is when posting gets dangerous - given my previous experience when you “invite” me out to “give you a try” you assumed that I hadn’t. But as I said I have tried the other locations before and was not satisfied. So, unless you have completely changed the pizza recipe to exactly match the one used in the loop locations I have no intention of doing so. In perusing your online menu I see that the pizza still has cheese on top, and the pizza still appears to be cooked in “35 to 45 minutes”******. So you’ve made no changes and yet you still want me to go eat there again. Why, when I have everything I need right downtown?

I will tell you right now that broadening the menu is not why I eat at Unos. I go there for pizza…period. No matter how Unos tries to “spin” it, by broadening the menu you have made Unos exactly the same as every other fast-casual restaurant out there. Whereas before you differentiated yourself with a singular focus on great pizza – now your menu looks like every TGIFridays, Applebees, and Ruby Tuesday out there in that saturated market. Sure, there’s a lot more money to be made that way these days, but you made a deal with the devil when you did it. By selling out to get the mass audiences and higher table turnover (and the related bigger revenues that comes with both) you disappoint anyone who has eaten at the original loop restaurants and knows what real Pizzeria Uno pizza tastes like. Any time one of us walks in and orders a pie at an out-of-town franchise, we’re going to be disappointed. Like this guy.

Just like you would have been if the Uno pizza you ate at the original location back in 1975 had tasted like what you’re serving in the franchises today.

However, in the spirit of fairness I will state that I was wrong in my original post about one thing. The original locations of Uno and Due in downtown Chicago are indeed run by the same company that runs the franchises in 31 states and three countries around the world. They are managed differently however, and offer a different menu than what is available at the franchises, or online - choosing instead to remain true to the original "pizza priority" that made them so successful in the first place. Or, at least they did in March.

Mr. Spencer, feel free to write back if you want to disagree. You can even email me if you prefer so you can do it offline. Just please stop posting in blogs. Use them as a way to feel the pulse of what customers are saying – not a means to put out “the party line”. Nobody will believe it’s really you anyway. They’ll probably think you’re some guy in Canada trying to pick a fight. =)

* Oh, wait – I mean “Uno Chicago Grill”. That’s right, the new name of the TGI-Uno stores doesn’t even mention pizza.
** And since you retired a while back one would presume you have nothing better to do but surf the blogs of strangers looking for opportunities to hype the Franken-Uno you created.
*** According to Businessweek and The Economist; assuming of course that there aren’t any B-schools on one of the other 8 planets – including Pluto but not including Sedna
**** “Because with a name like Centre Partners Management LLC – it has to be hedge”
***** And all of the regular readers too, typically
****** At least the “take-and-bake” version is…


J.Bro said…
This is Frank Pizzahut, former founder of Pizza Hut, and I just wanted to tell you that my pizza will throw down with this "Chicago" pizza any day of the week. Maybe twice on Thursday, when we're running our buy-one-get-one-free salad bar special.
J.Po said…
Well said, Grrr.

To Chain-Store-Uno's credit, they were the best thing offered in suburban Ohio, where the only real competition was Dominos and Pizza Hut. There is a place for Unos. But when you have access to the real deal in Chicago or Zachary's in Berkeley, why the hell would you visit the chain store?
Spice said…
Out of desperation I had to eat Pizza Hut last night. I grew up on it but have since moved on to better pizzas (Roman Candle rules!!!). It was as bad as I expected it to be. Sorry, Mr. Pizzahut. :)

I do, however, enjoy a chain-Unos 'za once in a while, or purchasing one from the local grocery to bake at home. They're not as good as the Chicago originals, but I would still categorize them as 'tasty.'
J.Po said…
Hey Grrr...since I have no idea what e-mail you check regularly, check the one I use cause I just sent an update about late-June plans.
(Do you agree with THIS use of blog comments?)
grrrbear said…
Oh all you my regular visitors, don't worry, that's not a new email address. I just set that one up for blogmail as I'm sure posting it will result in a deluge of SPAM.

Checking the other three addresses now, J.Po...