Pizza-ville: Service back in off-limit zones

When Eugene Williams learned that Domino's and Papa John's would not deliver pizza to certain predominantly black neighborhoods in Charlottesville, he was angry, and he called upon Mayor David Brown to publicly address this "obvious racism."

Williams, a longtime advocate for civil rights, says, "I think this is as near to segregation as not serving blacks in restaurants."

The mayor of the city frequently named a best place to live wasn't happy about the news, either. "It bothers me a lot to think that families can't get pizza delivered," Brown says.

Brown met May 12 with the pizza managers from Domino's and Papa John's and with police and community leaders. Following another meeting June 2 at the Westhaven Community Center, Domino's is starting limited delivery to Hardy Drive.

"We're doing a test," says Domino's area manager Alan Asef. The previously off-limits Hardy Drive now has daily pizza delivery until 5pm. In July, Asef hopes to extend the hours to 7pm, and if the drivers feel safe, to late night.

"I don't even want to hear it," scoffs Williams, unimpressed. "We don't need that kind of discrimination."

Domino's and Papa John's bans on pizza delivery to Hardy Drive, Friendship Court, and Prospect Avenue were reported in the Daily Progress when the AIDS Services Group, which was doing HIV testing at Westhaven on February 10, tried to order pizza around noon– and both companies refused to deliver.

"This is the first time we have had a refusal," says ASG executive director Kathy Baker. She had to scurry to find someone to pick up the pizza and take it over to Westhaven. "We weren't intending to make a big deal about it," says Baker, "but I objected."

The pizza stores claim that safety, not racism, is the reason for the ban, but Eugene Williams doesn't buy it. He points out that mail gets delivered in those neighborhoods, and drug stores make deliveries. Meter readers venture in without incident, as do taxis.

"In the same neighborhoods, we have police substations," says Williams, founder of Dogwood Housing, a company that renovates and leases in primarily black neighborhoods. "Why spend all this money if the neighborhoods are not safe?"

It was the 1997 opening of a police substation on Hardy Drive that encouraged Domino's to resume delivery there after a previous service hiatus. By May 2000, after a series of incidents right in front of the substation– including one punching, several harassments, and three stolen car-top signs– Domino's stopped delivery again.

Pizza drivers are particularly vulnerable compared to, say, cab drivers, who don't have to get out of their cars, according to Domino's Asef. "They know we probably have food and money, which wouldn't be true for utilities people. And most of our business is at dinner time or at night," he adds.

"I would love to feel like we could deliver there," says Victor Schass, who owns the Papa John's restaurants in Charlottesville.

Rougemont Avenue, parts of South First Street, 10th, 10-1/2, Dice, Page, and Paoli streets were also on Papa John's no-deliver list, and the company hadn't delivered to those addresses in the nearly five years Schass has been here.

Once the controversy arose, Papa John's began making deliveries until 4pm to those neighborhoods, and with daylight savings time, "We're going to take orders until 5," says Schass. He hopes to increase delivery times.

"We'd read in the paper the streets Domino's drivers were robbed on," says Schass, who worries about night-time conditions for Papa John's drivers dealing with cash and using their own vehicles– "the most expensive thing they own," he says. Drivers earn between $10 and $12 an hour with tips.

Schass remembers a Progress article that identified areas in town that were off limits to people on parole from drug convictions because of the high drug activity in those areas, and he put the locales on the Papa John's off-limits list.

Those are SODA zones– Stay Out of Drug Areas– and they haven't been used in about five years, says Neal Goodloe, the chief probation officer in District 9. The latest technique is called the "community supervision program," in which police help enforce curfews. "Why paper an entire area of the city as a no-go zone when you can keep people at the greatest risk in their house after 11?" Goodloe asks.

"The statistics don't demonstrate [criminal] activities in those neighborhoods increasing," says Charlottesville police Chief Tim Longo. "To say it's not safe to deliver pizzas– I'm not seeing that."

However, anecdotally at least, the May 1 death of a Westhaven resident killed by a blow to the head could re-enforce the perception that Hardy Drive has safety issues.

Rydall Payne, executive director of Abundant Life Ministry on Prospect Avenue, also lives on Prospect. Are the no-deliver neighborhoods safe? Payne pauses. "I have heard of unsafe situations," he says. "I don't want my wife walking out after 10pm."

There are police substations on Hardy Drive and in Blue Ridge Commons, but Payne says, "The police don't hang out even."

"We've put a lot of effort into those areas," counters Longo, "and the crime results demonstrate we've been successful." He lists the officers assigned to those areas. "You always have a person who will say, 'I don't see the police.'"

Eddie Howard is the Abundant Life manager and program director, and he also lives on Prospect. He suggests the pizza companies hire drivers from the community. "At the same time, if I'm the driver for a pizza company, am I going to go to a neighborhood where I'm afraid? I don't think I would," he admits.

But as for the big R question– "Can you separate the fact that it's a black neighborhood from the fact they're not delivering in those neighborhoods?" Howard asks. "They have crime in other places. Crime is everywhere."

In fact, Domino's has some predominantly white neighborhoods– or at least addresses– on its no-delivery list. "We had a couple in upscale neighborhoods," says Asef. Addresses in swanky Inglecress and Farmington have made the list because of dog attacks.

"In the past, we stopped delivery at a UVA fraternity for a year and a half," he adds.

As for charges of racism, Asef replies, "Absolutely not. It had everything to do with the safety of our drivers."

Domino's has faced charges of discrimination before. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated a complaint from a Fayetteville, North Carolina, woman who said she was denied pizza delivery because of her race.

"The U.S Department of Justice came out and said it's very clear Domino's makes these decisions based on the safety of their employees– not on race," says Domino's communications VP Tim McIntyre.

The corporation has a written policy that's followed when a decision is made to limit deliveries in a geographical area, and those decisions are revisited every year.

"We take the safety of our people as our number one priority, closely followed by servicing our customers," says McIntyre. "We don't think what we do is worth putting people at risk."

Other restaurants have different criteria for delivery– usually geographical. Just ask rural residents.

"We don't go past 250 and Pantops," says Kenny Ong, manager of Jade Garden on Fifth Street. But the restaurant does deliver to Friendship Court and Prospect Avenue– except for Blue Ridge Commons. And "We don't go inside," says Ong.

Eugene Williams wants all city dwellers to be able to have pizza delivered to their homes. "It's relaxing," he says, "when you can have some food brought to you."

Mayor Brown agrees. "Often these are neighborhoods where [residents] don't have a car. To not be able to order pizza is a problem we need to solve."

Attendees at the June 2 meeting seem hopeful that pizza delivery at Westhaven will once again be the norm. "The pizza guys remarked strongly that residents aren't the issue," Brown says, and that the people harassing the drivers didn't necessarily live there. "Five o'clock is a start, but not where we want to end up," he adds.

Lighting will be improved at Westhaven, and Longo has offered drivers the cell phone numbers of the community police officers.

Says AIDS Service Group's Baker, "If Charlottesville were truly a world class city, we wouldn't tolerate the fact some of our people live in areas that aren't safe enough to deliver pizza to."

To Eugene Williams, the ban on pizza delivery to some predominately black neighborhoods is evidence of racism in Charlottesville.

Mayor Brown: "It bothers me a lot to think that families can't get pizza delivered."

Domino's area manager Alan Asef says safety, not racism, is the reason the company stopped pizza delivery to Hardy Drive, Friendship Court, and Blue Ridge Commons.





Holiday 36