The Cower of Pizza

Aside from a predilection for anchovies, Denise Cruz's pizza fetish never sparked much controversy. In fact the self-employed bookkeeper was such a loyal crust hound when she lived in north Coconut Grove that employees of the Domino's Pizza franchise at 3740 Bird Rd. knew her by her first name.

But when Cruz called the same outlet January 25, hoping to fuel some late-night number crunching with a deep-dish cheese pie, she wound up raising a stink that would shame her favorite topping. Cruz, who moved south to the 3100 block of Plaza Street two years ago, says she was initially told to meet the Domino's driver outside. When she refused, the store manager calmly explained that staffers were no longer dispatched to her neighborhood after dark because it was too dangerous.

Cruz put some soup on the stove and let it simmer while she drafted a scathing letter to Domino's corporate office, Boycott Miami, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I'm a woman living alone, with nothing but two cats to protect me. If I really felt that bad about this neighborhood, I wouldn't live here," says Cruz, whose street is lined with single-story houses and neatly trimmed yards. "The people here own homes and take care of them. They just happen to be black. What does it say that Domino's is afraid to come here?"

Staffers at the Bird Road franchise say they adopted the policy after a driver was robbed at gunpoint in November, the latest in a series of robberies over the past year.

But when he was called for comment, Brad Bonnell, Domino's regional security director, said he was unaware of any such rule: "The only thing I can definitely tell you is that if such lines are drawn it would be exclusively for the safety of our delivery team members. That sort of redlining along racial lines would not be tolerated. We have cut off service to areas, often at the advice of police. But usually just to an apartment building or a dangerous corner."

After contacting a district supervisor, however, Bonnell confirmed that deliveries had been halted to the neighborhood known as the Black Grove. He says Domino's records show that drivers have been robbed in the area - a triangular section of Coconut Grove roughly bordered by McDonald Street, U.S. 1, and Franklin Avenue - five times since April 1990. One driver was severely beaten.

"We consider it bad business any time we cut off service to anyone," Bonnell stresses. "Understand, the working class is our market. We're not selling Haagen-Dazs ice cream. We're delivering dinners. Cheap dinners. But we have a moral responsibility, as well as an outrageous liability risk, if we send our drivers into a dangerous setting. And we have been held liable for that before." He adds that Domino's corporate policy encourages all drivers to halt a delivery themselves if they feel endangered.

Rick Holten, chairman of the Coconut Grove Village Council's Public Safety Committee, says he doesn't fault Domino's for cutting off deliveries to known high-crime areas. What burns Holten, a Metro-Dade police sergeant with nineteen years on the force, is the notion that the entire Black Grove should be cut off. "Sure there's a bad minority, like any neighborhood. But the majority of our people are good, hard-working folks. To categorize the whole place as a hot spot isn't fair and it isn't accurate," he says.

Bonnell counters that Domino's has taken an aggressive stand in community involvement. He cites the firm's long-standing policy of working with neighborhood groups to clean up neighborhoods and improve lighting. And he vows to call Holten in the hopes of establishing a more precise method for gauging the Grove's high-risk areas.

As it is now, he says, the decision of where to deliver in Coconut Grove is left up to the store manager, a system Cruz claims isn't working. "I'm a five-minute walk away from the store," she huffs. "If the manager doesn't know my neighborhood is safe, how is she judging the rest of the Grove?"

Cruz is also more than a little skeptical about the sincerity of a mega-corporation such as Domino's. "I got a letter from their corporate headquarters, dated January 27, that says someone will be in touch with me. I haven't heard spit," she notes. "I just think if you're in the service business, it's incumbent upon you to provide that service. That's why the slogan is `Domino's delivers,' not `Domino's delivers...but.'"

Still, Domino's delivery policy appears to a bit more cavalier than rival dough-kneaders Pizza Hut. According to Dale Pugh, South Florida's division security manager, Hut officials sidestep the snag of dangerous deliveries altogether. They conduct a detailed demographic study before a franchise opens and simply draw up the delivery lines around high-risk areas.


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