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Pizza shops remain masters of delivery

Andie Balenger | Daily Press Jakob Ross, left, cuts a pepperoni pizza to sell as slices while Kory Clements, back right, chops vegetables for Main Street Pizza’s fresh salads. Delivery drivers have several in-store responsibilities on top of the several delivery trips they take during a shift, including prepping food items, operating the oven, and cleaning the store.

ESCANABA — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, there has been a societal shift in how consumers receive every day goods. Services like DoorDash and Uber Eats can deliver fast food and gas station goodies right to your doorstep. Several big box grocery stores have implemented pick-up services, employing workers to shop, scan, and load groceries into your vehicle as you wait in the driver’s seat. While these service features may seem to be a new phenomenon, pizza shops have been holding down the delivery game for several decades.

Brian Hammond, owner and operator of Oven King Pizza in Escanaba, has been working in the pizza business since he was a high schooler. Soon to enter his sixteenth year as a shop owner, he says that the demand for delivery drivers is higher than it has ever been.

“Pizza delivery has increased in popularity big time, and obviously the pandemic played a humongous role in that,” Hammond said. “We thought that after everything got opened back up that deliveries would fall back to normal. But it really hasn’t.”

Most pizza shops have three categories of workers: Managers, inside workers, and delivery drivers. The delivery job typically attracts seasonal workers, predominantly students in their late teens and early 20s, looking to earn some quick cash during their summer and winter breaks. The number of staffed drivers varies from three to six, with as many as three driving at a time to ensure deliveries get out on time.

Kory Clements has been a delivery driver at Main Street Pizza in Gladstone for four years. Of the 40 hours of work he averages in a week, he spends about 30 on the road. To guarantee pizzas arrive on time, Clements described the delivery process as a math equation — how to deliver “x” amount of orders in “x” amount of time.

“Sometimes we have a couple of deliveries at a time, but it all depends on where these orders are going,” Clements said. “It is like a game. Sometimes the strategizing of ‘this delivery should come first, then that one’ can be fun.”

The delivery process begins as soon as an order leaves the oven. After being boxed and separated from the carry-out orders, the oven manager will shout “delivery up” to signify that a driver needs to hit the road. Once an order is bagged and tagged, drivers will hop in their car, punch their destination into a GPS, and get on their way.

While pizza shops are typically in a frenzy during the dinner-rush times, delivery drivers can be found enjoying the 10 to 15 minutes of solitude that come with cruising in their car. For many drivers, this is what makes the job so appealing.

“It’s freedom. You are out in our car, listening to your own music with the windows rolled down,” Clements said. “You are out there seeing things and meeting some pretty cool people. That is not stuff you get while working inside the store.”

Along with the out-of-store freedom, delivery drivers also receive an immediate cash payment for every day that is worked. With tips making up a majority of a driver’s weekly pay, they often clock out of their nightly shift with a large chunk of cash in their pocket. To most drivers, this beats waiting one or two weeks to see any form of compensation for their labor.

“The immediate cash is nice. When you can walk out of here after a six or seven hour shift with $100 in cash, anybody would be happy,” Hammond said. “You could come to work with not a dollar in your wallet and walk out with $100 or so.”

Most pizza shops charge a small flat-fee for every delivery order that is placed, half of which goes directly to the driver as soon as they leave on a delivery. This charge has been raised in the recent past to help accomodate the impact that rising gas prices have had on drivers.

“The delivery charge is for our gas and mileage, so no matter what we get something for every delivery we are on,” Clements said. “Then we always keep any tips that we get.”

To keep delivery times as low as possible, along with preventing a pile-up of delivery orders in-store, pizza shops typically have a delivery range they try to stay within. This range often varies from a 5- to 7-mile radius around the store. Because drivers stay within these pre-determined parameters, repeat customers often look forward to seeing their favorite driver walk up to their door.

Po’s Pizza, a small pizza shop located at 1408 8th Ave. S. in Escanaba, has been delivering pizzas across town for the past two years. Due to the restaurant’s size, they only have one delivery driver, co-owner Dwayne Williams Sr., employed at this time. This limited staff, however, allows Williams to build a familiarity and friendly relationship with his regular customers.

“I have my regulars, but I am always delivering to new people every week,” Williams said. “I deliver to a lot of older people who have a hard time getting around. And I will go way out too, places like Hannahville, Ford River, and Gladstone to meet people.”

While the delivery job seems fairly simple, transferring a product from Point A to Point B, the responsibilities of a pizza delivery driver extend beyond their time on the road. Drivers spend their in-store time chopping vegetables, preparing toppings, and assembling pizza orders as well. Essentially, they are the jack of all trades in the pizza realm.

“[Dwayne] does more than deliver. I have him pressing pizzas out and he will help prep them, throw them in the oven, and box them up,” Catherine Williams, co-owner of Po’s Pizza, said.

With drivers in demand, most pizza shops are eager to add qualified applicants to their staff. There are three job requirements: Drivers must be 18 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, and have a reliable vehicle.

“As a driver, you are on a mission. I kind of like the little bit of a gamble that comes with the job,” Clements said. “You never know what that person is going to give you. They could give you no tip or a $20 tip. That’s what makes it fun.”

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