One Year Ago, Conservatives Predicted a Pizza Drought in Seattle. Were They Right?

giphyJust over a year ago, Ritu Shah Burnham, the owner of the Capitol Hill outpost of the national Z Pizza franchise chain announced that she was closing her pizza restaurant because of Seattle’s rising minimum wage. Shah Burnham expressed concern about the future of her employees to the local Fox affiliate: “I absolutely am terrified for them,” she said. “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs, because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board.” Shah Burnham’s quotes were picked up and circulated across the country by conservative news sites and economists as a sign that Seattle was on the fast track to destruction.

Now that a year has officially passed since the Z Pizza saga exploded in the local media as a small-scale indictment of Seattle’s minimum-wage battle, I thought I’d check out the Capitol Hill pizza scene. How many pizza restaurants have opened within walking distance of Z Pizza in the time since that fateful Fox Q13  report in April of last year? Here, in order of personal preference, is a list:

1. Dino’s Tomato Pie (Nine minute walk from the old Z Pizza location.) From its intentionally terribad website to its self-proclaimed “longest bar in Seattle,” Dino’s Tomato Pie feels like it’s been around for decades. I’ve only eaten at Dino’s once since they opened in early March, but I keep having flashbacks to their delicious pizza—square, with thick crust and a spicy tomato sauce. It’s my clear favorite of all the new places that have opened on and around Capitol Hill.

2. Italian Family Pizza (Twelve minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) Italian Family Pizza is opening soon on First Hill, and as soon as it does, it’s going to be a serious contender for my coveted Favorite Pizza Restaurant Within Walking Distance of Z Pizza title. At their downtown location, Italian Family Pizza serves up huge pies—never slices—in a variety of styles. They are all delicious. It’s been my favorite pizza in Seattle for years now, and I honestly don’t know which will win in a head-to-head battle between Dino’s Tomato Pie and Italian Family Pizza.

3. Sizzle Pie (Six minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) This popular Portland pizza chain opened their first Seattle store on Union Street last weekend, and it’s pretty damn good. They offer a wide variety of large slices—including plenty of vegan options—and salads, and they’re open until way late in the evening for those drunky 2-in-the-morning-on-a-Saturday cravings. At the moment, you’re almost always guaranteed a wait in line at Sizzle Pie, but it’s worth the wait.

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4. Ian’s Pizza (Zero minute walk.) Ian’s is a good Wisconsin chain with strong progressive values. For their first Seattle location, they opened in the old Z Pizza spot, and the co-owner of Ian’s told Capitol Hill Seattle blog that they were happy to pay Seattle’s higher minimum wage because “It feels more like the right thing to do to respect service workers and what they do.” Swoon! And some of Ian’s slices are particularly good, including the carb-tastic macaroni and cheese pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like. If you’re looking for nontraditional pizza, you’ll find a lot to love at Ian’s. But when it comes to a good old-fashioned pepperoni-and-cheese slice, Ian’s doesn’t shine when compared with some of the other pizza within walking distance, including the storied Hot Mama’s walk-up shop just three minutes’ walk away.

5. Meltdown Pizza (Nine minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) This spot is in a great location for late-night slices—on the edge of Capitol Hill, right above I-5 and next to the Baltic Room—but the pizza is kind of pedestrian. Chewy crust, average size, boring toppings. It’s better than any pizza chain, but in a pizza-rich environment, you’ve simply gotta do better than average.

6. Bill’s Off Broadway (Two minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) Bill’s is one of those beloved old-school Capitol Hill bars, so the neighborhood rightfully went into mourning when it was announced that Bill’s would be closing in order to build a new condo. But just this once, developers did the right thing and announced that Bill’s would eventually move back in to the space once construction was finished. And then they followed through and kept their word. Bill’s reopened right around the same time that Z Pizza closed, and business seems to be booming. I’ve never been a fan of their pizza; I thought Bill’s pies have always been under-spiced and over-cheesed. They’re also, as a friend described it, “weirdly buttery.” I enjoy hanging out at Bill’s, but their pizza has never been the selling point.

7. Amante (Ten minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) Pizza chain Amante has been on the corner of Olive and Denny for almost a decade, but a new owner recently closed the shop to redecorate and make some much-needed repairs. Hopefully, the pizza will be better, too. Amante was never the worst pizza on Capitol Hill—that would be the Domino’s that has weirdly prevailed on Broadway since time immemorial—but it was always the second worst, with cardboard crust and inferior ingredients.

Not placed yet: Pizzeria 88  (Nine minute walk from the old Z Pizza Location.) I haven’t eaten at Pizzeria 88 yet—frankly, it’s impossible to stay on a diet and eat at every new pizza place to open on or near Capitol Hill—but people on Yelp love it. They say the “crust was cooked perfectly,” and that Pizza 88 serves “real Neapolitan style pizza… like back east.” It’s on the fancier side, with the owners bringing over an expensive pizza oven direct from Sicily, and they also serve a selection of pastas. I can’t wait to go here and adjust their location on the list accordingly.

So that’s eight pizza places, ranging from fine dining to cheap and on-the-go, that have opened (or are opening soon) in less than a year, all within fifteen minutes’ walk of the restaurant that supposedly closed due to the minimum wage. It’s almost as though those predictions that restaurant employees would be unable to find work were founded on nothing, isn’t it? From here, it looks like raising the minimum wage didn’t damage the local pizza economy—in fact, anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that raising the minimum wage supercharged the local pizza economy. (Mmm, supercharged pizza.)

Now, sure, some dunderhead might chime in with the opinion that if Seattle kept its minimum wage the same—or got rid of the minimum wage entirely, as many conservatives demand—why, there would be 24 pizza places opening on and around Capitol Hill! But those 16 imaginary additional pizza shops would be employing people who couldn’t afford to buy food at the pizza restaurants at which they work. Those workers would essentially not be adding anything to the local economy. (In fact, they’d likely have to be on government assistance to supplement their awful wages, even if they worked more than full time at $7.25 an hour.) And Seattle’s unemployment rate is low enough that there probably wouldn’t be enough imaginary workers to staff those many imaginary pizza places in any case.

Look: conservative economists from outside Seattle might try to make it sound as though Seattle is suffering through its higher minimum wage. They can cherry-pick uninformed claims to produce stories that make it seem positively apocalyptic here. But anyone who lives in Seattle knows that the economy is thriving, and it’s thriving for one incredibly simple reason: more people are making more money, which they’re then spending in the local economy. In Seattle, we’re all doing better because we’re all doing better. Pizza for everyone!

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.