Last October we had a big bash at The Evergreen Pub in Dankoville. We had a lot to celebrate. I had just take over ownership of the pub (it used to be the Town Tavern), Uncle Manuel was retiring, I was replacing him as the president of Whitfield Farms, The Evergreen had just signed a deal with The Pheasant’s Roost Tavern of Ireland to carry their beer and Jamie Wright of The Pheasant had come over to be Guest Bartender at The Evergreen. We threw a big pizza and beer party and had a great time. The place was packed!
I had no idea I had started a war.
“The Great Pizza War,” as Dave, one of my bartenders at The Evergreen, calls it.
It started innocently enough. The local paper ran a story about the event – mainly because it was the first public announcement of Uncle Manuel retiring. The article was mostly about Manuel and Whitfield Farms but they gave the pub a really nice mention too. The only problem was the quote of Rusty Piersen, a local farmer, who said we had the “best pizza in the Tri-County area.”
Problem being we’re just down the street from Mario’s Villa, the pizza restaurant. Their slogan? “Best Pizza in the Tri-County Area!!!!!” With five exclamation points.
About a week later, I was having lunch at The Evergreen, sitting at my usual table by the front window. As I gazed across the street at the park, a man suddenly appeared on the street side of the window. He pointed at me and smiled and walked the in through the door of the pub.
It was the owner of Mario’s Villa.
“Ah, Mr. Whitfield, Mario Barstardi. Sorry to interrupt your lunch. Might I have a word?” he said as he sat down across from me.
“Yes, certainly. Can I order you some lunch?”
“Oh no, thank you. I’ll just be a minute,” he said.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Bastardi?”
“You had a pizza party here last week,” he said.
“Yes, we did,” it was quite a success.”
“Mr. Whitfield, I’m glad your party was a success,” he said, “good for you. That is fine. But I know you are new here. I mean…Dankoville…you are and you aren’t,” he smiled. “The town is named after you but you’ve never really lived here. Summers as a boy, I believe. But you were here to stay with your relatives, this is not your hometown. Not even now, if I understand?” He smiled again.
“That’s true,” I acknowledged, nodding my head.
“And so, I don’t expect you to know the customs here, among the business community. We…cooperate rather than compete, you see?” He smiled.
“I’m all for cooperation among the local businesses,” I said.
“That is good to hear. Of course, I am not surprised, knowing your family here. Your Uncle Manuel – very good man, very good. Mushroom, pepper and onion. Of course now he takes the gluten free but back in the day…oh well. Twenty years ago, Manuel would have his pepper and onion but it would be sausage instead of mushroom. Oh yes. And your Uncle Chester, a crazy man yes but always very pleasant, anchovy, onion and extra cheese.” He smiled still again.
I smiled as I recognized my uncles’ taste buds. Mr. Bastardi knew his customers.
“Well, we obviously can’t compete with you in the pizza business, Mr. Bastardi,” I offered.
“There, you see!” he said. “But your pizza party, maybe you didn’t realize…that is direct competition for me now. The newspaper called your pizza the best in the Tri-County area.”
“They were quoting a customer –”
“Yes, I know. But THAT is MY slogan!” he shouted. The patrons at the other tables and at the bar looked over at us. Irv, the day bartender, looked over and pointed to Mr. Bastardi with a “Do you want me to throw him out?” look on his face. He seemed rather eager to do so. I shook my head no, trying to avoid Bastardi’s notice.
But he was too lost in what he was saying to notice. “That is DIRECT competition! THAT is what I am talking about,” he said with his voice still raised above normal level.
“Well yes, I understand,” I said quietly, “but there is nothing about our having pizza on the menu here that is an attack on your business. We do pub food here. Pizza is pub food.”
“Of course. But you are in the bar business. I am in the pizza business,” Bastardi replied. “I sell beer and wine but I don’t go out and say I have the best wine selection in town – even though I do – because that is not my business. Pizza is my business. I promote pizza. I make money on the beer and wine, sure but I don’t go out and compete with you who are in that business. I don’t market that. I market pizza. You sell beer, wine, the hard liquor and the rest. You market that. But you don’t market pizza. That is my area. That is how we do it here. You see?” He smiled again. I got the feeling Bastardi’s smiles do not necessarily denote happiness.
I hadn’t thought about anything like this at all when I bought the pub, so I was completely taken by surprise and really had to give this matter some thought before replying. So that’s what I told him. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
“What is there to consider? You market beer, I market pizza. Simple. You can sell pizza, I can sell beer. But we don’t market that. We don’t step on each other’s toes. You see?” He smiled. Of course.
It would have been nice to just say yes. But this was a business decision about my pub and Bastardi was right, I was new to this market. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers but I wasn’t going to make a decision to not market a popular item just because another business wanted me to. I had to look into this.
“I will give it some thought and be in touch,” I said.
“You do that, Mr. Whitfield.”
He smiled. And got up and left.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have initiated a pre-emptive strike in The Great Pizza War. But I was new in town, I was naive about people.
And so I didn’t realize then that Mario Bastardi had just fired a warning shot.