In the summer of ’76, I was 16 and got my first job working at a pizza restaurant. Orville (not his real name) was our manager. Only 20, he was laid-back, bright, and interested in everything except the pizza business. And he was the coolest guy I’d ever met.
My first morning, he handed me my new, red, plastic derby, with “PIZZA” and “FUN” printed on the hatband, and a jaunty, red and white striped vest. Then he hurriedly showed me how to run a large block of raw pizza dough back and forth through the roller press machine until it was flattened into a 20-foot-long sheet, only an eighth of an inch thick. He then pressed a steel cutting ring into the sheet and whipped a knife around its outside edge. He deftly repeated the process until he had three tall stacks each of small, medium, and large pizza “skins”.
The next morning I made the skins on my own. But Orv had neglected to tell me that before using the cutting rings, I should make sure the sheet of dough was not stretched tight. Because if it were, the skins slowly shape-shifted from round to oval.
After making the skins, I raced over to the food prep area to slice pepperoni and fill the tubs with toppings and sauce. But when I went to retrieve the skins to begin making pizzas, I was stunned to see that they had transformed themselves into stacks of small, medium, and large footballs.
I took one to Orv’s office in the back of the restaurant, fully expecting him to tell me to hand in my derby, but he just laughed.
“We’ll tell people it’s a football promotion,” he said.
“But Orv, it’s June.”
“Hey, it’s always football season in Texas.”
It worked. After an initial quizzical stare, few cared that their football-shaped pizzas were hanging over the edge of the pan or had to be crammed into a takeout box. And if they did ask, Orv would give them a fist pump and shout, “Go Oilers!”
One time, though, Orv carried being cool a little too far. One Tuesday morning the owner didn’t show up to count the receipts, like he usually did. I was busy with food prep, when I noticed that Orv was working frantically on the 6’x 6’ gas-fired pizza oven. I went over to ask what was up, and he said he’d stuck a match in every orifice he could find, but he couldn’t figure out how the owner lit the oven. By then it was 11:15, and we both knew it took an hour for the oven to heat up.
Soon, customers started to pour in for the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Orv took their money and pointed them all toward the salad bar. When they asked where the pizza was, he told them we were working on it. It didn’t take long for the normal conversational buzz of the 40 or so customers to be replaced by a menacing silence.
I asked Orv what we should do, and he said, “Let’s go to my office, close the door, and hide.” Which is exactly what we did.
Things went well for a while in Orv’s office. We were sitting around joking about the Astros and had pretty much forgotten about the oven issue when suddenly there was a loud pounding on the door. Apparently, the customers had elected a representative to find out what the heck was going on.
When Orv told him, he turned and bellowed to the other customers, “THERE’S NO PIZZA!” They all shot to their feet and rushed toward us like the pitchfork brandishing villagers at the end of Frankenstein. Orv started to explain that to request a refund, they must write a letter to corporate headquarters, but quickly realized that enforcing company policy was not worth his life.
Later that afternoon the owner walked in and asked how lunch went. Orv, as cool as the other side of the pillow, answered, “Not bad.”