The Upper Crust Pizzeria chain has been enduring financial issues including bankruptcy and lawsuits. Kelley Santangelo, co-owner of West Roxbury's Upper Crust Pizzeria discussed the company's issues and being a local franchisee with Patch.
Patch: Why did you choose to open an Upper Crust Pizzeria in West Roxbury?
Santangelo: We wanted to open an Upper Crust franchise because we loved the pizza and my husband, Paul, and one of our partners, Joe Mulry, grew up in West Roxbury and thought it would be a great spot for it. Also, my husband had a very strong attachment to the building itself. He was a frequent customer to Tai Ho, and before that China Gold. Growing up his family always had their Chinese food from there for special occasions and he continued to frequent it as long as it was open. The night that it burned down we kept receiving phone calls from people who wanted to inform him that it was on fire because his love of the place was well known. It was such a tragedy that two firefighters' lives were lost fighting the fire that destroyed the restaurant, as well as the other businesses.
Patch: The Upper Crust Pizzeria corporation had to file for bankruptcy, how has that affected your West Roxbury location?
Santangelo: All of the press surrounding The Upper Crust has hurt our business. The many issues that corporate Upper Crust have faced have been very high profile in the newspapers and unfortunately our franchise has been viewed as being a part of all of the negative attention. We are simply local families who bought a business and have invested a lot of money and time into making it profitable. However, most recently it has been even more difficult because many believe we are closed.
Patch: Did you know about the financial issues happening at the corporate level when you bought in to a franchise?
Santangelo: Absolutely not. We bought into an up-and-coming business with high hopes of enjoying running a thriving restaurant that has high quality food.
Patch: And you live locally and own the West Roxbury Upper Crust, yes?
Santangelo: Yes, I have a one-minute commute to work!
Patch: You previously told Patch that the corporate office sold Groupon.com coupons without franchisees knowledge . How is that situation going? Is there any recouping the money that you lost?
Santangelo: The Groupon situation has been an absolute nightmare. We agreed to a first batch of Groupons, then a second one was sold without our consent. Groupon paid corporate Upper Crust for all of the Groupons sold, including the ones for our store. However, corporate Upper Crust never paid us for any Groupons that were sold and declared bankruptcy a few days after Groupon issued the last payment for them. At last amount we had honored over $25,000 without any money received for them. The amount we are owed is now about $12,000 since many Groupons sold for our store have been refunded during the time we were not honoring them. However, now Groupon has made an agreement with our store and the two franchises in Newburyport and Portsmouth, NH. The West Roxbury location is now honoring the Groupons from the Fenway, Wellesley and West Roxbury stores again and Groupon is reimbursing us for each Groupon we take.
Patch: You have posted a sign on the business' front door saying you're locally owned - why did you do that?
Santangelo: First of all, I want people to feel good about supporting a local business and local families. Secondly, I want people to realize that we are not involved in any of the corporate Upper Crust issues.
Patch: And have people been receptive to you being a locally-owned business?
Santangelo: Yes! I think the community enjoys supporting a business that truly is invested and involved in the community. My husband and I have four children and the Mulry's have three children. We do our best to be supportive to all groups and activities. Sporting leagues, local schools, local charities, community events. It is fun to be out and about and run into customers who I have become close to through their support of our business. "It is the pizza lady!" is a common comment I hear.
Patch: Moving forward, how will the corporate issues affect the West Roxbury Upper Crust?
Santangelo: I am hoping that more and more people realize that we are NOT a corporate store and because of that we are not affected at all.
Patch: There are a lot of pizza places in West Roxbury - why should someone come to Upper Crust?
Santangelo: The answer is quality. This is not a criticism of other pizza places by any means! There are plenty of pizza places in West Roxbury and quite honestly, most are far less expensive than our pizza. However, when you make homemade dough, cut up fresh vegetables, cook and prepare meats and use only the finest quality cheeses and ingredients-it adds up! There is a lot of labor cost involved in the food preparation, our food costs are high due to our superior ingredients and each and every pizza is rolled out to order and made with great care. Another thing that people don't realize when looking at our pricing is our sizing. Our small is a 14-inch pizza with eight slices. Our large is an 18-inch with 12 slices. Our small is the "normal" large in most other pizza places. Also, our dine-in area is plentiful and enjoyable to be in - we have four flat screen high-def TVs that are always broadcasting sporting events. You can have a typical sit down restaurant experience-a delicious pizza with a beer or glass of wine-but not worry about wheeling in a stroller or bringing your laptop in to do some work.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add about the Upper Crust in West Roxbury?
Santangelo: I would just like to reiterate that we are locally owned and managed and our pizza is excellent! Come on in, order take out or delivery and try us out and you can understand why we have such loyal customers!