Seattle's Five Worst Pizza Chains
Here are the five worst Seattle-based pizza chains: Tutta Bella, Pagliacci, Zeeks, P.C.C. Community Markets and MOD Pizza.
#5: Tutta Bella
This chain has experienced massive growth since 2004 and has products in multiple grocery stores now. Their wood-fired Neopolitan style pies are paper thin and tasty, and it’s a nice touch that they put fennel in some of their salads. My problem with Tutta Bella — other than that they are a soulless corporate chain founded by a former Starbucks executive — is that they were awarded the first VPN certification in the region. What is a VPN certification, you ask? A membership means that your pies qualify to be described as certified Neopolitan by VPN Americas, which is a marketing organization. To qualify for this club you need “a wood burning oven and an approved mixer” and you’ll need to use “only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients (preferably imported from Naples or Campania region).” Certification costs $2,500.
Maybe I’m being too harsh here. I have never turned down the chance to eat one of Tutta Bella’s tiny, expensive pizzas. And my friend Ronald says that “over the course of its 30-year existence, (VPN) has certified fewer than 500 authentic Neapolitan pizzerias worldwide.” Domino’s has over 6,000 locations in the United States alone so, fine. It’s just that there’s something that feels fake about Tutta Bella. And Un-American. Pizza is an invention of Italian-American immigrants from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The flatbread with stuff on it from Naples that inspires Tutta Bella is just not real pizza. I know America has many distinctive regional pizza styles but Italy is not a region of America.
According to Tutta Bella’s website “It’s simple, nutritious, craveable, and always made with our secret ingredient… LOVE.” Their values are “Love, innovation, growth, community, passion.” That’s Bezosian bullshit - it’s a business and in order to stay in business in the ruthless restaurant game you have to sell overpriced food made by underpaid workers.
Pagliacci was started by Dorene Centioli-McTigue, whose family owned a bunch of local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. She sold it to a group of coffee entrepeneurs.
They have laughable training videos on Youtube. They clearly cut costs on ingredients - they aren’t gonna bother to assert that their food is all imported from the motherland, like Tutta Bella, that’s for sure. There are dozens of types and grades of mozzarella out there and Pagliacci clearly uses a cheap variety. The sauce is flavorless goop. Their crust is mediocre. The dough for all Pagliacci locations is made in a commissary kitchen (food factory) by a giant dough machine. Every crust has the exact same weight, ingredients and therefore a lack of individual “love,” as Tutta Bella’s marketing team would say. Their signature salad is good but it comes tossed and if you order delivery it is dessicated upon arrival. Pagliacci was voted best pizza by the Seattle Weekly readers poll (a payola advertising gimmick) every year for decades but the Seattle Weekly no longer exists.
Pagliacci has engaged in wage and tip theft. A normal thief goes to jail, but a corporate thief just pays a four million dollar fine and gets back to business - the business of exploiting cheap labor while dishing out bad pizza.
DISCLOSURE: In the early 90s I worked for a pizza place that did a huge catering order for Torrefazione Italia - owned by the people that later bought Pagliacci. It took all day, my entire shift. They did not tip, or, now that I think of it, they might have tipped but I never saw any tip money. Torrefazione was later sold to Starbucks.
Copy and paste everything I said about Pagliacci and apply it to Zeeks. Started by I.P.A. quaffing snowboarder dudes, Zeeks has bad sauce, cheap ingredients, and dismal crust made from dough shipped to stores from a dough factory.
And did I mention that Zeeks has been caught engaging in wage and tip theft? Twice! A normal thief goes to jail, but a corporate thief just pays a three quarters of a million dollars in fines and gets back to business - the business of exploiting cheap labor while dishing out bad pizza.
Zeeks just opened up a store in South Seattle and I kind of feel bad for the franchisee who spent well over a million bucks on a build out and the franchise fee, only to have the latest Zeeks wage and tip theft story come out the week they opened.
Recently I had a three dollar coupon for Zeeks and since their pizza is inedible I ordered a Greek salad. The final bill was over $14, after the coupon, and I left a three dollar tip in the tip jar. What I got was a plastic clamshell with romaine lettuce, four tiny tomato slices, ten thin slices of Kalamata olives, a tiny amount of diced red onion and green pepper, a pathetic dash of feta and oil – just straight oil and not olive oil – for dressing.
#2: P.C.C. Community Markets
PCC is a supermarket chain that serves pizza but I include them here because their pizza is unbelievably bad. This Seattle supermarket chain for the wealthy has pizza ovens and a full time pizza guy but their pizza is awful! The crust is garbage and the ingredients do not resemble the same items that they sell in their store. Bad cheese quality. Weird pepperoni. They sell take and bake pizzas and those are awful too. Pro-tip: unless your oven at home goes to 700 degrees don’t bother cooking pizza, especially the foul rubbish from PCC.
#1: MOD Pizza
MOD Pizza is the worst Seattle pizza chain by far and my kids agree. This is a national chain but I include them here because the owners are from the nearby suburb of Bellevue. They got their start as food capitalists by creating a chain of coffee shops in England that was eventually sold to Starbucks. The MOD gimmick is that it’s the Subway or Chipotle of pizza - cheap customizable low quality shite made to order by low wage workers.
MOD’s marketing team exploits the fact that they hire ex-cons. Husband-and-wife owners Scott and Ally Svenson “genuinely want to help people, and not just the ones that are easy to help.” The reason they do this is obvious: cheap labor. Is it disgusting that a couple who are worth millions of dollars have a business model that not only exploits cheap labor but exploits the cheapest, most desperate labor? People with no other options? Yes. They also hire disabled people for their “MOD Squad Best Buddies” program.
Note to people who need jobs: never, ever work for a husband and wife team. People who have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could tell you that.
A MOD outlet opened near Nirvana Wok headquarters in a Safeway parking lot where a Taco Bell used to be, right before the pandemic hit. It closed almost immediately and is still not open. You can bet that the coporate owners of MOD got paid and that the franchisee was left on the hook for a store that failed right out of the gate.
The actual MOD pizza - the food that they serve - is not worth describing.
DISCLOSURE: I once was at a party with the founders of MOD Pizza. They arrived by boat with their four daughters, all of whom were wearing matching dresses. My kind of people!
Even Small Business Owners Can Be Tyrants
On a positive note - there is some really good pizza in Seattle. World Pizza in the International District has a unique crumbly crust, maybe because they use shortening. I was enjoying their potato and Gorgonzola pie back when they were located in a condemned building in Belltown in the mid-90s, and they still serve it! Delancey in Ballard is awesome. Serious Pie is good but the owner, Tom Douglas, is, of course, a wage and tip thief.
Post Alley Pizza in Pike Place Market is relatively new and incredible - this is the best pizza in Seattle right now.
You actually can’t swing a cat in this town without hitting a decent pizza place - there are too many to mention here. So go out there and support your local small store and avoid the chains! But when supporting small businesses keep in mind that restaurants are only profitable because the owners have been able to convince people to work for low wages and low or no benefits. And tipping doesn’t solve the problem, it just subsidizes the owners and allows them to get away with paying less. I’m not saying all small business owners are tyrants, but the problem is that employees have little recourse if they are, other than quitting. At least at a large corporation there’s gonna be a human resources department to listen to your complaints. A small business tyrant IS the human resources department.
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