Purloined pies: Prank or delivery threat?
Pizza delivery drivers have to be one of the easiest robbery targets– even more so than convenience store clerks. But when word got out earlier this year that Domino's and Papa John's had blacklisted certain neighborhoods as unsafe for delivery, best-place-to-live Charlottesville was aghast.
Now, six months after Domino's resumed daylight delivery to Blue Ridge Commons, a driver has been robbed of two extra large pizzas, some chicken wings, and the delivery bag.
Domino's received a call December 11 to deliver to a residence in the 700-block of Prospect Avenue, which now enjoys night-time deliveries– across the street from Blue Ridge Commons, which does not.
The driver knocked on the door around 8pm, and the people there said they hadn't ordered the pies, according to Lieutenant Gary Pleasants of the Charlottesville police.
Seven or eight young black males, between 13 and 18 years old, appeared from behind a building. "One pushed [the driver]," says Pleasants. "Then they grabbed the pizzas and ran into Blue Ridge Commons." Value of the comestibles and container: $40.
So far, Domino's hasn't responded by withdrawing daytime service from Blue Ridge Commons, but the incident may not bode well for adding delivery times past 5pm.
"This was a set-up," says Domino's area manager Alan Asef. "We think someone– some neighbors– must have seen them. We're hoping this was an isolated incident."
Back in February, the Daily Progress reported that neither Domino's nor Papa John's would deliver lunch-time pizzas to Westhaven, where the AIDS Services Group was doing HIV testing.
Also on their do-not-deliver list was Friendship Court, just south of the Downtown Mall. Papa John's banned deliveries to about a half-dozen other predominantly black areas, including South First Street and the 10th and Page neighborhood.
Long-time civil rights activist Eugene Williams called the situation "obvious racism."
Under a public spotlight, the pizza company managers met with Mayor David Brown, community leaders, police, and Westhaven residents in May and June. The two companies agreed to resume daylight deliveries to Hardy Drive, Friendship Court, and Blue Ridge Commons.
Domino's now provides full delivery service to Friendship Court. "Friendship Court has been cleaned up pretty good," says Asef. "We're hoping the police and city authorities can do the same with Blue Ridge Commons and Hardy Drive."
Papa John's owner Victor Schass did not return phone calls from The Hook.
Williams calls the December 11 robbery "just a bad prank that would happen anywhere–" including areas around the university. "Wherever you have young people, that goes on," he says.
Such "pranks" are part of the pizza delivery drivers' job, says Williams. He's bothered that whole neighborhoods are "stigmatized" and wants Mayor Brown to address the issue.
Brown, too, sees the pie-snatching as an isolated incident that could happen anywhere in town. He notes some improvement since earlier this year, but says he's not satisfied with the 5pm delivery cut-off for Blue Ridge Commons and Hardy Drive.
"I was frustrated they only delivered to 5pm even in the summer, when it was light until 9pm," says Brown. "I think they tried, but they could have tried harder."
Brown credits police with improving safety in neighborhoods like South First Street, Friendship Court, and Westhaven. "I spend a lot of time in low-income neighborhoods and think they're safer than people think they are," he says.
After the robbery and snowballs being thrown at drivers on Hardy Drive, Domino's has no plans to increase delivery hours to Blue Ridge Commons and Hardy Drive.
"Pizza is not worth the safety of our team members," says Asef.
Domino's area manager Alan Asef says a December 11 robbery across the street from Blue Ridge Commons was a "set-up."
PHOTO BY LAUREN BROOKS