Lessons From Ziggy’s Pizza: Technically Correct Isn’t Correct.

A Genuine New York City-Size Pizza Slice

Pizza like this does not appear in this story (Image by pattie74_99 via Flickr)

When I was sixteen, I had a job at Ziggy’s Pizza. Ziggy and his restaurant are no more, but I still live by some of the lessons I learned in that little place.

At Ziggy’s, I learned about work and the adult world. I learned about food service. I learned about managing people. Mostly, even though it wasn’t what he was trying to teach me, Ziggy taught me about effective communication. He paid me $2.35 an hour to learn what he wasn’t teaching.

North-South, East-West

Ziggy’s was next to the grocery store my family patronized. We’d go in the restaurant and grab a bite occasionally. The pizza wasn’t anything special, it was just in the right place.

Three cuts north-south, three cuts east-west. PS: I am a master of graphics.

There was one thing that distinguished the pizza from others. The large pizza was not cut in the typical triangular fashion. Instead, it was cut with three cuts running north to south, and three cuts going east to west. The result was some slices without crust, some with crust, and four triangles. It was the sort of thing that when you see it you think, “that’s odd”…and then you eat.

I had the usual expenses of a high school junior. The place with the weird pizza had a help wanted sign, so I applied. They hired me and I started working that Friday night.

I worked a day here and there with different managers, but never met Ziggy himself. One Saturday morning he walked in. He walked in like he owned the place. I suppose owning a place entitles a person to do that, but only in that particular place.

Meeting the first person whose name was not Grandma to write me a check awed me. I think he sensed my nervousness and tried to put me at ease. We spoke for a few minutes and then I went back to work making pizza.

Let Me Show You How We Cut A Pizza

Ziggy watched me. I kept working, trying to make a good impression. Between orders, I found ways to keep busy. When an order was ready, I got down a box and slid the pizza in there like I was born for the task. I reached for the cutter, but Ziggy had other ideas. It was time for him to teach.

Pizza cutter

Pizza cutter, the implement of deception (Image via Wikipedia)

“Let me show you how we cut a pizza” he said, grabbing the cutter. I thought that was odd; I’d learned that the first day I worked. But the man was signing the checks, so I let him show me the wondrous north-south, east-west cutting method.

Ziggy proudly demonstrated the six cuts that distinguished his pizza from the rest. Then he asked, “any questions?” I figured I should have one, so I asked “why do we do it that way?” Ziggy told me it was so we could tell the customers that a large pizza had sixteen slices.

It occurred to me that this gave the customers the wrong impression. I started to ask about that, but a manager intervened and saved me from talking myself out of a job.


I worked a few nights a week, and tried being the best pizza maker $2.35 an hour could buy. I cut a lot of north-south, east-west pizza. When customers asked, I told them there were sixteen slices in a large pie.

One night, I gave the sixteen slice answer. The customer paid the manager and I brought the pizza out. He looked and told the manager “there’s no way there are sixteen slices of pizza in that box”.

The manager opened the box and pointed out that there were, in fact, the advertised number of separate sections of pizza. The gentleman disagreed, countering that they were not the expected slices. A debate ensued. When the customer told the manager “yes, technically you are right, but if you have to say technically to be correct, you are lying”, the debate ended.

The customer got his money back.

Ziggy’s first lesson, though he didn’t mean to teach me this, is –  You don’t have to qualify the truth. If you are technically right, you are not right. In the eyes of some, you’re lying.

Sometimes I am right.  I am more often wrong. I’ll always choose being wrong over technically right.

This is part one of three, click here for more Ziggy


80 Comments on “Lessons From Ziggy’s Pizza: Technically Correct Isn’t Correct.”

  1. ‘…if you have to say technically to be correct, you are lying.’
    There’s truth in that.

    I’m going to learn that. Other people should too, certainly.

  2. I think the important lesson to learn here is that technically, Ziggy knew how to market. It was just the follow through that wasn’t so good.

    • Betty says:

      Your comment makes me think of something our old marketing director used to say: “It’s not lying, it’s marketing.”

      • omawarisan says:

        So Ziggy was on to something, if he had created a truly giant 16 slice pie for people with long arms? he was just one step away.

        It’s not a lie, if you believe it – Costanza

  3. I wish Ziggy’s was still there…my kids don’t like crust edges on their pizza!

    The most important thing I learned from one of my first bosses was “Many mickels make a muckel.” (that, and don’t chain-smoke, or you will die!).


  4. Todd Pack says:

    Nicely done, Oma. I always assumed big pizzas were sliced that way to make them easier to eat. (Large slices of thin crust pizza can get a little droopy.) I’ve never been a slice-counter, anyway. Counting slices seems kind of fussy.

  5. dufmanno says:

    Ziggy was a modern day svengali. I’m surprised he didn’t use the power of his hypnotic gaze and a jedi mind trick to thwart the needless questions of the customer.
    “This IS the pizza you ordered and it does in fact have 16 slices. You will go home and enjoy this pizza and will patronize my pizza parlor for the rest of your natural life. Also, from now on you will pay double”

    I’d like to also point out at this juncture that DC has the suckiest pizza on the face of the earth and I have to go home to New York to get a decent slice.

    • omawarisan says:

      Strangely enough this was outside of DC. Ok, not strangely, coincidentally. Or something.

      Ziggy shoud have worked more on his mind control. On the other hand, I might still be there if he had.

  6. Horsedonkeymulezebra says:

    As Oma’s younger brother, I followed him in employment at Ziggy’s Pizza after he moved on to sell Styx and Rush albums.

    What I learned from Ziggy amounted to “OSHA and zoning regulations be damned.”

    There were 2 pizza ovens at Ziggy’s, one stacked on top of the other; making the opening of one at knee level, the other about 6 feet above the floor. The bottom oven was the one used for baking pizza. But it was forbidden to bake a pizza in the top oven. That had a more nefarious purpose.

    It should be noted, that while the word “pizza” was in the name of the restaurant, And was indeed the top selling item on the menu, Ziggy’s was not known as the best pizza by a long shot.

    Imagine if you will, the commercials Papa Johns and Dominoes currently run, proclaiming the freshness of their ingredients. If you were to go through the transcripts of one of those commercials word by word substituting each word’s opposite, you would end up with a very accurate commercial for Ziggy’s.

    The crusts were pre-made, pre-formed, and pre-baked. Peppers, mushrooms, and onions were canned or jarred, and the secret to making the sauce was to get a large can off the shelf which was labeled “Pizza Sauce – Italian Style” and stirring in a small amount of pre-grated parmesan cheese.

    However, the sausage was fresh! Well, fresh-ish. It arrived uncooked, in a 10 lb tube. It was breakfast sausage, and was packaged in a similar manner.

    The method of cooking the sausage was as follows: Open the plastic, cram all 10 lbs of meat into a single 13x9x2 pan and place in the upper oven for 1 hour.

    At the end of the hour the sausage had reduced to 5lbs of cooked meat sitting in bubbling 5lb pool of molten pork fat.

    Remember now, the upper oven opening was eye level for your typical 16 year old boy, and the only way to remove the pan was with a large pizza paddle. It took a Herculean amount of wrist strength to lift the pan out of the oven and keep the pan perfectly level in three dimensions, almost over your head… Add to that the threat of bathing yourself in boiling hog fat. So you see, we weren’t GIVEN $2.35/hr, we EARNED IT.

    Now that the sausage was out of the oven, and perched on the pizza paddle over your head, you then needed to put the pan on the counter to cool…

    Do this: go grab a broom, hold it by the handle over your head as ifyo were going to stab someone much taller than youin the chest with the end of the bristles. Now to make it fun, have one of your kids put their full fishbowl on the broom. Now place the fishbowl on the dining room table. Do not spill any water, do not drop the bowl, do not let Nemo die. THAT is what it was like, except therewas the option of 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

    The whole maneuver, when done properly, had to be done with Alter Boy precision, and in the apron and hat, we looked like AlterBoys in a way… Holding the sacred sausage high in praise, sidestepping, then doing a slow, deep lunging genuflection while praying not to burn…

    • Laura says:

      I used to like pizza, before I read this comment.

      I think I finally understand why I like green peppers and mushrooms on some pizzas and hate them on others.

    • omawarisan says:

      That is exactly how I remember the sausage cooking routine. You ended up with a big thick sausage cake to be broken up while it was still steaming. Ow.

      Did you get to change the oil in the friers?

      However, you are disrepecting the committment the man had to his pizza sauce. Don’t you remember the white paper bags of the secret blend of seasoning that were mixed into the canned sauce? You know who knew the proportions and mixed the seasonings? Me…because I was management…a topic to be discussed later.

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        Well, I’m off restaurant pizza forever now. And not because of all those soggy, worn out veggies and the plastic Italian sauce. Boiling hog fat. That did it.

  7. Brooke says:

    Thank you, marketing, for making the few that question things temporarily insane.

  8. Laura says:

    Ziggy’s probably practicing law somewhere now.

    I’m torn about how I feel about the cross-cut pizza — I kind of like the fact that the pieces come in a variety of sizes, but the crustless ones would be difficult to eat without making a mess.

    • omawarisan says:

      What ended up happening a lot is that the little corer triangles were really small and mostly crust. It didnt help his case.

      You know, I never knew what the man did to get the money to invest in a restaurant.

  9. madtante says:

    Imo’s pizza (a local chain, “the square beyond compare”) cuts all of theirs in that fashion but I don’t think they’ve used that style of cutting (known as “St. Louis style”: “cracker-thin crust,” savory, not sweet sauce and “provel cheese” an amalgam that tastes much like gruyère to a not-so-discriminating taster, such as myself) to promote false advertising.

    I think they liked being cut differently from every other pizza shop in town. 🙂

  10. pattypunker says:

    cardinal rule of pizza: every slice should have crust.

  11. This post rings true with me… I once worked for (ahem) Pizza. i started as a phone order taker and eventually became the manager. Eventually. I remember one night working the phones when a guy called in, asked how many slices out large pizza had, I said “16” he said, “Oh, we couldn’t possibly eat 16 slices… could you cut it in 12?”

    He didn’t *Sound* drunk!

    Great story. Thanks!

  12. Margie says:

    Of course I don’t remember the sausage cooking because female employees were forbidden to make pizzas. Girls made the “Famous Subs” (which I know to be truly famous; after all, it said it right on our mandatory uniform t-shirts). Girls also had to wear a red bandana and peel onions in preparation for the slicing machine; sob sob. Oma was my fun manager – we got our work done, kept the place tidy, and never got yelled at. Some of the other managers were not so fun which I’m sure will be the topic of a future blog post! I’ll have to say, although the pizzas were a bit cardboard and cookie cutterish, the cheese steak sub just out of the steamer was to die for!

    • Horsedonkeymulezebra says:

      Margie, I almost pointed out Ziggy’s rampant sexisim as well. I remember it was written on the schedule “pizza men and sub girls”

      • omawarisan says:

        Ha ha ha….I knew you’d bring that up, Margie. I never understood the division of labor, but it was pretty strictly enforced wasn’t it?

        I’d have worn the bandanna before I’d have worn that stupid paper hat with my name written on it. I heard on the radio one night that Chang was the most common name in the world. I got all the pizza makers to write Chang on their hats. The managers thought it was funny. Ziggy didnt. I’d have gotten you to do it, but you know, you had a bandanna.

  13. Katybeth says:

    Well. I thought in the past 22 years of living in Chicago, I knew almost all there was to know about Pizza. I was wrong.
    Technically right and Let me be honest are phrases I am never comfortable with using. On the other hand I like Ziggys style. “Let me show ya how we cut pizza kid…” It just feels right for a guy named Ziggy-who owns the place….ya know?

    • omawarisan says:

      “let me show ya” always happened to people after they’d been there a while. I dont know if he thought he paid people to stand there for 2 weeks until he found a let me show ya moment or what. Everyone had them. The next post is a let me show you one too.

  14. spencercourt says:

    > $2.35 an hour

    I remember making that “much” when I was a grad student at UF. But since I had been making about $10,500 working for City of St. Petersburg before going to grad school, $2.35 was not impressive. But the “work” was easy; I sat at a desk at the UF Physics reading Room and checked out books. Once week, I shelved new magazines / jhournals coming in. Mostly, I studied. I guess that’s why they called it “work-study” program…

    Isn’t that Taco Bell meat technically “beef”….?

  15. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Man, I just don’t know if I’m missing the mathematical mystery here, but there WERE 16 SLICES! What’s the problem, cranky customer?! Does a slice have to be wedge-shaped? NO. Sheesh. Pizza Purists. I’m sure that guy got his fair share of boiling hog fat – he probably ate 10 of the 16 slices in the car before he got home. Then he LIED and told them there were only 8 in the box. Hah! My ex used to cut the pizzas that way. The peonies I planted over his grave in the backyard were absolutely gorgeous.

  16. Horsedonkeymulezebra says:

    Further, there was exactly one (1) door in the place. The same door the customers went in and out of was the same one we used to receive deliveries from suppliers, and the same door that we would use to bring out the trash. Large sacks of garbage were carried out through the dining room, past customers enjoying(?) their meal.

    It was on one of these trash runs I saw what was both the coolest and most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen… A man and his son was walking toward the glass door to come in and pick up their pizza, just as I was treating our dining room guests to the delightful aroma of bad pizza garbage. The little boy, who was about 4 years old was running toward the door with his hands out to push it open.

    Unfortunately, if the boy had been older and had known how to read, he might have noticed the sign on the door which read “pull”.

    As often happens in times like these, everything went into slow motion for me. I knew I was too far from the door to open it for the tyke. In fact, if I even tried, I would only succeed in knocking him across the parking lot. I opted not to.

    I watched as the kid’s hands hit the door, and as his forehead hit the door, and as he ricocheted back about 4 feet.

    The glass was still wobbling in my slow-mo vision and I saw several cracks spiderweb through the glass starting where the boy’s head had just struck. Then the glass shattered into many many long shards.

    Thankfully, apart from a knot on his head, the kid was unharmed. The dad was understandably furious, and I decided to wait until later to finish bringing out the trash. Ziggy would later spring for actual safety glass in the door, rather than standard picture frame strength. No raises for anyone that year. Cheap bastard.

  17. Rob G says:

    I remember telling someone about the way they cut the pizza there just recently. I thought it was odd, but had no idea that their method of cutting the pizza was controversial or a marketing ploy. You’d never get away with cutting pizza like that in NJ – and still have all your fingers…

  18. planetross says:

    I’ve eaten pizza cut like that, but it was at my friend’s place … and made by his mother … from Italy and everything … and free … and probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten!
    I once felt cheated when I ordered a small pizza and they gave me half a large, in a large pizza box.
    … I only felt cheated because I thought I’d scored a whole large pizza and they’d made a mistake.
    I’m basically a criminal. hee hee!

  19. 36x37 says:

    In my home town, there were two pizza places that cut their pizza the north/south, east/west way: Panzera’s and Rotolo’s. Both families were second-generation Italians. I just assumed they cut their pizzas in some traditional Italian way. And so: Ziggy’s 16-piece answer has blown my mind.

  20. Whoa, deep post. Mind = blown.

  21. Hey, Oma…does your brother have a blog? It sounds like he’s (almost) as talented a storyteller as you are!


  22. Fascinating. But don’t get me started on AH customers. I did a summer in the food service industry. One was enough!

  23. Hippie Cahier says:

    I wonder if Ziggy ever considered concentric circles. I would draw a graphic, but I’m not nearly as artistically inclined as you.

  24. writerdood says:

    Nice writeup. Ziggy’s seems familiar, and so do the slices, but I can’t say I’ve been there. It’s weird. I could swear I’ve encountered this pizza before, you know? It’s like déjà vu but for pizza. Pizza-ja vu. Anyway, it seems like Ziggy loved ducks, because water foul would be the perfect recipient for those little wasted triangles.

  25. Abe's Blog says:

    I love it! Technically. That is such a great word. It is so great for convincing our lessors of how right (or close enough to right) we are!

  26. Omawarison says:

    Yeah. The lesson of my middle and early high school carrer right there.

  27. thejaggedman says:

    Mike’s Pizza King sliced it that way in the early eighties and they are still slicing it that way today. The lesson is thus: If you like it it’s a good pizza pie no matter how you slice it.

  28. […] Lessons From Ziggy’s Pizza: Technically Correct Isn’t Correct. ( […]

  29. […] is the last of a three-part series that starts […]

  30. […] ← Lessons From Ziggy’s Pizza: Buy Books. Do Good. Lessons From Ziggy’s Pizza: Technically Correct Isn’t Correct. […]

  31. […] mentioned that my first job was working at a place called Ziggy’s Pizza. The truth about Ziggy’s was that their cheesesteak was better than their pizza. It was […]

  32. […] It seemed the best approach was to just go to my friends and tell them directly. I’d just do it quickly, like pulling off a band-aid. Over the course of the next week or so, I let people know. I told the tale of the strangeness in my house in the school cafeteria, at track practice and at my job at Ziggy’s Pizza. […]

  33. […] been turned down when I resigned any of the jobs I took while working my way through school – Ziggy’s Pizza, Harmony Hut, church grounds keeper, Capital Centre, Ivey’s. Two weeks notice, a handshake […]

  34. […] and gentlemen, I give you the epic Ziggy’s Pizza Trilogy. It’s one of my favorite tales, it is labor related and you aren’t working so […]

  35. Thanks for the shout out!
    Here in NYC we have two kinds of pizza: the round kind and the square kind (cut in the east/west, north/south pattern). The square kind is also called Sicilian. I’ve not been to Sicily, but I have a feeling they don’t make square pizza there. Seems like it might be false advertising. Technically.

So, what's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s