By Berlin Schaubhut (NYC).How do the ubiquitous one dollar slice pizzerias function in NYC? How do they source ingredients, compete with one another and make a profit?
Pizza in NYC comes in all shapes, tastes, sizes, and prices. The pizza that fits in most conveniently with the NYC lifestyle is Pizza-by-the slice. Individual slices can range from 99 cents to $5 or more, often varying with such disparity on the same block.
But when it comes to the cheapest of slices, how can one pizzeria supply their slices so cheaply? How do they 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. Their 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, as well as 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 their 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 their delicious dollar slices and testaments that Percy’s Pizza has “definitely one of, if not the best, dollar slice in the city”. Honestly, after trying Percy’s it’s hard to disagree.
So what sets Percy’s above its competitors? It is most likely not the ambience, although it is not the same chain feel of many 99 cent and dollar slice places across the city. 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.
So where do the ingredients for Percy’s pizza slices come from? Well, Restaurant Depot, of course. Restaurant Depot is 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 Restaurant Depot to purchase food supplies. For example, an interview conducted with an owner of a price-focused restaurant in the Bronx revealed that he purchased seventy to one hundred percent of the food at his establishment from Restaurant Depot, and another owner estimated that about seventy-five to eighty percent of restaurants owners also purchase the majority of their food from Restaurant Depot as well. Therefore, Percy’s is not unique in its use of Restaurant Depot to purchase ingredients.
However, after a little more prying into where Percy’s sources it’s food, it was revealed that not every single ingredient comes from Restaurant Depot. One very special ingredient is sourced differently; flour. One of Percy’s pizza makers revealed, “it’s all in the flour”, and where they source that will remain a secret. So the one ingredient not sourced from the ubiquitous Restaurant Depot is in essence the secret ingredient that keeps their simple cheese slices superior, and customers coming back again and again despite many direct competitors in their vicinity.
If Percy’s does have a superior slice, then why are there so many other dollar slices within blocks of the pizzeria? These competitors turn to other aspects of pizza than quality to market their slice. For example, descriptively named Thin Crust Pizza, less than a block from Percy’s, offers an inferior slice with much less ambience or personality both in the window front and inside the small pizzeria. What Thin Crust Pizza does offer is two dollar beers in addition to dollar slices. 99 fresh cent slices on 6th Ave. is just a few blocks from Percy’s with inferior slices and décor as well, yet they have an advantage due to their location on an even busier street. A bartender who works at the hotel on the same street as Percy’s and a block from 99 cent fresh pizza claims the latter is his favorite. How did he choose this establishment? When asked, he stared back blankly before answering frankly, “because it’s close and a dollar of course!”
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 their pizza is worth way more than a dollar, yet the volume that dollar slices brings in makes it profitable. Same with Thin Crust Pizza. All that this establishment’s pizza-maker would say when asked how they keep the prices so cheap is, “we sell a lot.”
When are peak times for dollar slices? All the time! Dollar slices are in high demand at any time of the day in NYC. However, Percy’s does get especially busy during the late night hours of 4am-5am on Fridays and Saturdays when the bars are closing and people want something fast, hot, and cheap.
NYC has been called the city that never sleeps, and pizza seems to be the food that never stops being made or consumed here. For many, finding a fast hot meal that is also only one dollar is crucial in a city that is constantly busy and also notoriously expensive to live in. Pizza, especially in the dollar slice form, never has to hinder a New Yorker economically, nor slow them down.