z pizza

Capitol Hill to Get Another New Pizza Place, One Year After Conservatives Predicted a Pizza Apocalypse

What he said.

What he said.

As you may recall, I wrote about the eight pizza places that opened on Capitol Hill in the past year. All those new restaurants arrived within one year after conservatives trumpeted a single Capitol Hill pizza place’s closure as a sign that Seattle’s higher minimum wage was killing small business.

Today, we can add another new pizza place to the list. John Sundstrom, owner of the fabulous fine dining restaurant Lark and the more casual Slab—which I believe to be the single best sandwich shop on Capitol Hill—is opening a pizza place called Southpaw on 12th Avenue, a little over ten minutes’ walk from the pizza place that closed down last year. Southpaw,  as with all of Sundstrom’s restaurants, will use locally sourced ingredients. But it’s not going to be ridiculously expensive. Bethany Jean Clement broke the story for the Seattle Times:

“We’re not just backing up the pizza supply truck to unload standard mozzarella,” Sundstrom says. But while you can expect some of the “Lark aesthetic and quality range,” he notes that big-enough-to-share pizzas will “probably be around 20 bucks.” Instead of slices, Southpaw will serve quarter-pies, about two slices’ worth for $5 — “enough for a one-person lunch with a salad… a walking-and-eating kind of size.”

Southpaw will also serve fancy soft-serve ice cream, which is a familiar staple at another bustling business on Capitol Hill, the Rachel’s Ginger Beer on 12th, just down the street from the future Southpaw site.

Considering that Seattle workers are doing better now than they were before the minimum wage increased, and considering that restaurant owners are investing in workers despite all those supposedly “job-killing” regulations, maybe it’s time for conservative talking heads to take notes from Idris at the top of this post and cancel the apocalypse? Seems as though the sky might not be falling, after all.

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.

youguyseatpizza

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!

Anybody Need a Job Making Pizza?

If you know any former Z Pizza employees who are still unemployed, please send them this photo.

If you know any former Z Pizza employees who are still unemployed, please send them this photo.

Remember Z Pizza, the franchise that closed earlier this year? Remember how its owner claimed it was closing due to Seattle’s minimum wage, and that she was “absolutely…terrified” for her employees, because “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs, because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board?”

Well, nobody has to be terrified. The above sign has been posted in the windows of Big Mario’s Pizza, just five minutes’ walk from where Z Pizza used to be, for about the last week. If you can’t read through the glare of the window, it reads:

NOW HIRING!

Big Mario’s is hiring personnel for all kitchen positions:

—Pizza Cooks
—Prep Cooks
—Counter
—Delivery Drivers

Our new location in Lower Queen Anne will be opening in October and we need staff members for both location. If you are interested please bring in your resume and ask for a manager or email it to jobs.bigmarios@gmail.com

So if you know anyone who’s out of work—of course, with unemployment down to 3.15% in Seattle, you might not—send them over to Big Mario’s, which is doing so well that it’s opening a second location.

Look, as Goldy pointed out, all this anecdotal evidence is just that: anecdotal. Big Mario’s hiring employees and opening another location is an anecdote, same as Z Pizza’s closure is an anecdote. The point we’re making by bringing up these anecdotes is twofold:

1) By mirroring the right-wing efforts to turn anecdotes into trends and explaining why they don’t work, we’re identifying the problem by example.

and, more importantly:

2) We’re identifying the inherent flaws in media coverage on this topic. Back in April if you took Q13’s report on Z Pizza as guidance, a report that only used one source and treated it like news, you would expect to live in a very different Seattle right now. Q13 hinted that we were about to see mass closures in Seattle, and that businesses were going to be ruined. Other news sources linked to Q13’s report and treated it as fact. Well, the nightmare that they predicted didn’t come true. They did a terrible job of reporting on this issue. And they should be held accountable for that.

Anti-$15 Minimum Wage Advocate Accidentally Makes the Perfect Case for a $15 Minimum Wage

Anyone else hungry for some pizza?

Anyone else hungry for some pizza?

Two pieces of news relating to the $15 minimum wage in Seattle that we couldn’t let pass without comment:

1. Ritu Shah-Burnham, the Z Pizza franchise owner who previously told news sources that Seattle’s minimum wage was forcing her to close and that she was “terrified” for her employees who were about to enter the labor market, now claims “she has never said she’s against the minimum-wage increase,” according to KIRO 7. Shah-Burnham tells KIRO that she’s against the part of the law that raises the minimum wage faster for franchisees. KIRO investigates:

The director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, Brian Surratt, said the designations for ‘large’ and ‘small’ businesses were not taken lightly.

Surratt said franchises are different, in that they are part of a network, with built-in economies of scale and support with advertising, supply-chain management and menus.

To that idea, Shah-Burnham said she paid for all those services, thereby making them less of an advantage than a cost.

To me, that sounds like Shah-Burnham chose the wrong franchise opportunity. I wish her luck with whatever she decides to do next.

2. As Working Washington pointed out, local bar owner and loud anti-$15 advocate Andrew Friedman got into a Capitol Hill Seattle comment thread and accidentally made a case for the $15 minimum wage’s success. Friedman wrote about Wisconsin pizza chain Ian’s moving into the old Z Pizza spot:
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Capitol Hill Pizza Place That Closed Due to $15 Minimum Wage to Be Replaced by Better Pizza Place

Remember Z Pizza, the Capitol Hill restaurant whose owner said the store was closing due to Seattle’s increased minimum wage? Remember when Q13 Fox quoted owner Ritu Shah Burnham as saying she was “terrified for” her employees, that “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs [once Z Pizza closes], because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board?” Remember how conservative bloggers referred to Z Pizza’s closing as “a spate” of Seattle restaurant closures? Remember how they used the case of Z Pizza as a single data point that somehow predicted a trend of restaurant closures?

Ian's saves the day for pizza-lovers.

Ian’s saves the day for pizza-lovers.

Well! This morning, J Seattle at Capitol Hill Seattle Blog broke the news that a new tenant will be moving into Z Pizza’s space this fall. And guess what? It’s a pizza place. Ian’s Pizza on the Hill, the first Seattle outpost of a popular small Wisconsin pizza chain, will open in October. Ian’s co-owner Brandon Stottler told Capitol Hill Seattle that he’s all in favor of Seattle’s increased minimum wage.* “It feels more like the right thing to do to respect service workers and what they do,” Stottler told J Seattle. Capitol Hill Seattle also linked to a Badger Herald editorial about Ian’s excellent health care policy: “here is a case of a small business owner standing up and saying they already offer their employees full health coverage and have done so ever since they could afford it.” Sounds like the kind of business we want in Seattle.

And Ian’s isn’t the only pizzeria opening on Capitol Hill this fall. Capitol Hill Seattle lists five pizza places, including the first Seattle outpost of Portland’s Sizzle Pie restaurant, that are opening (or, in one case, reopening) in Z Pizza’s neighborhood over the next few months. Call me crazy, but I don’t think former Z Pizza employees will have a problem finding work.

In fact, Seattle Metropolitan magazine just published a story about Seattle’s chef shortage, using the nationally famous—yep, you guessed it—pizza place Delancey as its opening example:

When Brandon Pettit posted an opening for a cook at his pizzeria, Delancey, in Ballard, the sort of place where diners line up before doors open and the staff enjoys one another’s company enough to hang out during off hours, he got exactly one response. From someone who has never worked at a restaurant. Pettit hired her.

Seriously: does it look like the increased minimum wage is causing an employment crisis to you? If so, then consider this chart by Friend of Skunkworks Invictus, showing the number of restaurant permits in Seattle:

The fact is, minimum-wage naysayers don’t have a leg to stand on. Those scary early posts by lazy journalists and axe-grinding conservative bloggers were based on airy fictions and scare tactics. The reality is, Seattle’s restaurant scene is right now stronger than it’s ever been.

* Conservatives will make much of the fact that Ian’s will be considered a small business under the minimum wage law because it has fewer than 500 employees, and not a franchise as Z Pizza was. It’s true that Ian’s will have a longer schedule to reach the $15 minimum wage than Z Pizza would have had. But what strikes me as interesting about this particular conservative argument is that it’s accepting of the $15 minimum wage; detractors just want a longer timeframe to reach it.
Frankly, though, franchises should pay their employees more, because franchises are not as good for the local economy as small businesses are. A report by Civic Economics in 2012 (PDF) found that chains like Target and Home Depot “recirculate an average of 13.6% of all revenue within the local markets that host its stores,” while locally owned businesses return 52 percent. And local restaurants recirculate 78.6 percent of their revenue locally, while chains like McDonald’s only recirculate 30.4 percent. By paying their employees more at a faster rate, franchises are doing their part to help boost the local economy, thus paving the way for small businesses to raise their minimum wage.