Section: Features

A slice of life

A slice of life

Photo by Jack Zellweger

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Collegian photo editor Jack Zellweger ’17 and I approached the door of the Mount Vernon Domino’s Pizza on the night of Dec. 2. It was 11 p.m. on a Friday, and the small, fluorescent-lit building stood out starkly against the empty parking lot. Pausing to peer in through the doors of the restaurant, we could see five employees milling about a kitchen that filled most of the space. We awkwardly walked inside, where a woman in the trademark Domino’s blue polo told us that the man who we would ride along with tonight was out on a delivery. I sipped on a Sprite as we waited by the counter.

A middle-aged man holding a large, black delivery bag soon rushed inside to greet us. He introduced himself as John Strong and grabbed the next order of pizzas, beckoning us out to the parking lot. He motioned for us to climb into a sleek red 2011 Chevrolet Camaro with bright white headlights. “A lot of people ask how a pizza guy can afford such a nice car,” Strong later said. “And the answer is tips.”

“Buckle up, guys,” he told us, and we were on our way. Our first stop was a nearby nursing facility called Mount Vernon Health and Rehabilitation Center. We pulled up to the doorway and walked inside to the front desk. After we spent several minutes standing in the entrance and wandering around a deserted hallway, a nurse in teal scrubs ran up to sign for the pizza. She explained that she wasn’t the customer, but that her coworker was busy. Then she tossed the pizza onto the front desk and ran back into the nursing home.

When we got back to Domino’s, Strong showed us the computer he used to check in and out of the kitchen. The system directly updates the website’s tracker, which tells the customer when their order is complete and out for delivery. On the way out, we passed a whiteboard in the backroom. “No Country Music Wednesday-Sunday” was scrawled across the top. Strong explained with a laugh that, every day after closing, the Domino’s crew plays loud music while they clean up; tensions had begun to brew over the chosen genre.

Our second customer was a local man around 30 years old who ordered pizza late at night about once a week. When we parked the car, he was already out on the porch ready to sign for his food.

“He’s a great customer, tips well,” Strong said. “He signs the receipt with his own pen.”

Next, we headed straight for Rookies Sports Pub & Grill in Mount Vernon. I was a little surprised to see that someone had requested a pizza delivery directly to a bar, but no one seemed surprised when we entered the establishment. An energetic, slightly disheveled woman ran around a large pool table to meet us and sign for her order. We observed as a tall man who appeared to be in his early or mid-20s danced wildly by himself next to a boom box. Strong handed the customer her box of pizza and we were off.

On the way to the third delivery of the night, Strong realized he had forgotten to bring the Sprite his customer had ordered, so he stopped by a gas station to pick one up. This is a call Strong makes regularly, if he thinks it will save him the time of returning to the Domino’s kitchen. I watched from the parking lot as he hurried into the store and toward the drink aisle. Zellweger ran to keep up, camera in hand, as two employees watched in confusion. Strong purchased the soda and we were on our way again.

Our return to Domino’s prompted the start of a delivery rush to Kenyon. We watched as Strong carried several K-Card order receipts over to a machine and entered the students’ requests. Then  we left for Lewis Residence Hall. Strong explained that he likes to do multiple Kenyon deliveries in one run, especially since several customers often pick up pizza from one location — in this case, the dorm’s parking lot. Our first customer was Ella Dixon ’20. “I like the Domino’s ordering experience because you can track it,” Dixon later said. “All of my friends get really into it and call the people checking the quality of their order their ‘homies.’” As she turned to go inside, the next student, a girl in loose flowy pants without socks or shoes on, came to grab her order.

“I love delivering to Kenyon,” Strong said. “Everyone is always so happy to see me.” He has been delivering pizza for the Mount Vernon franchise for 10 years, before which he was a general manager. Like four other employees, Strong made the switch because the hours were more flexible and the tips he earned made the pay better. During his 17 years with the company, he has seen many changes in the delivery process to the college, including a shift from delivering directly to students’ rooms to outside their dorms once the K-Card security system was installed in 2011.

When our Lewis deliveries were done, we drove over to the Unity House NCA, which Strong says orders “a lot of pizza, sometimes a bunch of times in one night.”

Our next return to the Domino’s franchise was longer than previous ones, so we spent time exploring the restaurant’s kitchen, two fridges and drive-thru order booth, as well as talking to the employees, who frequently joked around with each other and with us. Strong reflected on how important it was for employees to get along in such a teamwork-based business.

After a while, we went back to the car for another trek to the College. This time, we stopped at Caples Hall, where a Papa John’s delivery car had blocked the lot in front of the entrance. Strong rolled his eyes and said generally he tried to be friendly with Papa John’s, but he was clearly annoyed. As we were walking back to the car following our final deliveries, several students wandered up and asked if Strong had any leftover pizzas in the car that he could sell to them, a phenomenon that occasionally occurs. He replied with a smile that, unfortunately, he did not. He was a man on a mission.

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