By Berlin Schaubhut (NYC)
Pizza in New York City comes in all shapes, tastes, sizes and prices, but pizza-by-the-slice rules them all. Individual slices can range from 99 cents to $5 or more, often varying widely on the same block.
But when it comes to the cheapest of slices, how can one pizzeria supply its slices so cheaply? How does it compete with a pizzeria charging the same price per slice next door?
Percy’s Pizza on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village is an establishment known for its one-dollar slices. The menu is simple; $1 for plain cheese, $2 with a single topping choice of pepperoni, meatball, mushroom, onion, pepper or anchovy, or a large cheese pie for $10. Drinks are $2, bottled or canned. It’s cash only, of course.
The restaurant itself is designed for slices, or maybe you could say the culture of slices designed the restaurant. Customers order at the counter by pointing to what pizza looks the best, and then most walk right out the door, timing bites with steps. This suits the on-the-go lifestyle of New Yorkers, including students who frequent the pizzeria due to its close proximity to New York University. For those few who decide to stay while they eat, there is only one table with seats and a few high-top tables without chairs so that patrons can eat their slices while standing up.
Percy’s is a simple establishment, lacking even a website, yet its notoriety is impressive in a city with dollar slices on almost every block. Google Percy’s Pizza and you will find reviews full of praise for those dollar slices and testaments that Percy’s Pizza has “definitely one of, if not the best, dollar slice in the city.” After trying Percy’s, it’s hard to disagree.
So, what sets Percy’s above its competitors? Even though it doesn’t quite have the chain feel of many dollar slice pizzerias in the city, the ambience isn’t memorable. It’s not the service, although Percy’s could be sometimes described as fast and friendly. So what about the ingredients? According to the anonymous man behind the counter, Percy’s is no different than the rest of the pizzerias. Pizza is simple, and they don’t claim to be the best, yet people keep on coming back.
The ingredients for Percy’s pizza slices come from the same place that many pizzerias use: Restaurant Depot, a nationwide wholesale cash-and-carry foodservice supplier with several locations around New York City.
A report conducted by the Mayor’s office on NYC food systems found that most independent restaurants that are price-focused purchase from large wholesalers or distributors such as Restaurant Depot. According to the report, many restaurants owners cut down on costs by sending their employees to bigger industry stores like this to purchase food supplies. For example, an interview in the report with an owner of a price-focused restaurant in the Bronx revealed that he buys 70 to 100 percent of his ingredients from Restaurant Depot, and another owner estimated that about 75 to 80 percent of restaurants owners also purchase the majority of their food from such stores.
But at Percy’s, not every ingredient comes from Restaurant Depot, and this could be what helps the restaurant stand out from the crowd. One employee revealed that the flour comes from somewhere that is not Restaurant Depot, but he would not say where. Could flour alone get the credit for some of the most popular slices in the city?
The real question seems to be not how dollar slice places attract New Yorkers, but how they make any money off of the extremely cheap price point. The answer lies in quantity. Percy’s admits that its pizza is worth more than what customers pay for it, yet the volume that dollar slices brings in makes selling them at such a low price profitable.
At Thin Crust Pizza, a nearby pizzeria that hooks customers not with high-quality flour but $2 beers, an employee, who did not want to be quoted on the record, said that the only reason they can keep prices so low is because they sell so many slices.
Dollar slices are in high demand at any time of the day in New York City. Percy’s does get especially busy during the late night hours of 4 to 5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when the bars are closing and people want something fast, hot and cheap.
In a city that never sleeps, pizza seems to be the food that never sleeps, either. People are making and consuming it 24 hours a day. For many, finding a fast, hot and delicious meal for a dollar can be the key to affording to live in a city so notoriously busy and expensive. Pizza never has to hinder a New Yorker economically, nor slow them down.