Telephones started ringing at the Pizza Hut on York Road and Seminary Avenue Monday evening at 4:55 p.m. and didn't stop for hours. As employees raced around to fill orders, 50 pizza-craving men and women stood in a mass, lured to the Hut by the promise of a large pizza as cheap as $1.69.
You know the story by now. The world knows it by now. (My sister in Boston called at 7:30 yesterday morning to laugh and talk about it.) A Pizza Hut promotion that promised a dollar off for every sack by the Ravens caused pizza pandemonium because the defense racked up an astonishing nine sacks Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. In Bel Air Monday evening, a three-block line was reported. In Owings Mills, customers were reporting two- to three-hour waits. Demand was so great at the Pikesville store, the outlet ran out of large boxes. An outlet in Towson sold about 600 pizzas, six times the average number for a weekday night.
All customers at the Lutherville outlet were warned that the wait would be at least one hour. Some waited three.
One charming young woman with long flowing curls sat on a bench and read "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." (Girlfriend, don't you know that's a movie now?) A 30-something mom called home on a cellular phone to instruct her kids to heat up some lasagna to eat while they waited for their pizza to arrive. (Lasagna as appetizer for pizza. You gotta love it.) Other customers joked about making a McDonald's run to tide them over. One person called a friend to come over and witness the Pizza Hut mob scene firsthand, and he did.
As the hours slipped by, orders kept pouring in and the waiting customers became better acquainted with one another, and noisier. Cheers erupted when names were called announcing that a pizza was ready. As one man left, he hoisted two steaming pizzas high over his head and yelled: "Go Ravens! You still [stink], but you are my team!"
A woman who had waited three hours was about to give up and leave when she was offered two cheese pizzas and a large
pepperoni ordered by someone named "Pepper" who never arrived.
A customer yelled out to harried Pizza Hut employees: "Are you )) guys still Raven fans?"
One of them cracked back: "Yeah, but where the hell are all you people when they're playing, because I never see this many people at the games."
The Goose knows pizza
It should be noted that Pizza Hut had been struggling in recent years and probably could use all the publicity it could get, even of the type that appears to be a promotion backfiring. A stockbroker and an advertising executive I spoke with yesterday agreed Monday's Big Night was a plus for the company.
A year ago, when Pizza Hut was held - along with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell - by PepsiCo Inc., the chain restaurants posted a fourth-quarter loss of $144 million, compared with a profit of $261 million a year earlier. During the past several months, Pepsi spun off its restaurant group into TRICON Global Restaurants Inc. (trading under the symbol YUM), and TRICON was recently listed as a "strong buy" by at least one major brokerage house here. Pizza Hut constitutes 43 percent of Tricon's global holdings.
Though its market image has been rocky in the highly competitive pizza industry - have there been better pizza commercials than Little Caesar's? - Pizza Hut seems to be getting into a groove again. Here in the Baltimore area, the Hut did a smart thing by hiring as its spokesman the 330-pound Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa. His radio commercials for Pizza Hut are clever and convincing; this guy could do sitcoms some day. He carries an exquisite gut and an in-your-mouth attitude that defies the cardiopulmonary experts. Siragusa seems to advocate packing away the pizza as a way of celebrating life on Earth. He's Pizza Man. He's Jabba the Pizza Hut. His joie de vivre comes in an oil-stained cardboard box. His was the ad that said Pizza Hut would knock a buck off every Monday Night pizza for every Sunday sack the Ravens recorded.
Do you think the actuaries figured on nine sacks in a single game? (The Ravens had only 30 sacks in all 16 games of the 1996 season).
And even if they didn't, so what?
Even if Monday night's big buy put the squeeze on Pizza Hut, do you think it caused any permanent injury to its overall profit margin? What do you figure to be the markup on a $10.96 large plain pizza anyway?
Readers as role models
There's a reading crisis in the city schools - a serious problem among children in the elementary grades, in particular. The statistics deflate Baltimore's pretension as "the city that reads." But consider this: Monday, in the jury assembly room of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, 19 of 26 men and women waiting for their assignments at midday were reading books, newspapers, magazines or various reports and paperwork. It's anecdotal stuff, to be sure, but I find it stunning, even inspiring. That's my idea of a role model for a kid - an adult sitting and reading - not a pro athlete flying across a TV screen. Maybe next season Pizza Hut could take a buck off for every book the Ravens defensive line reads in a week.
Pub Date: 11/19/97