Pete Aiello is frustrated.
The delivery drivers at Pizza Roma, his restaurant in the North Side’s Allegheny West section, have been robbed several times since he opened 20 months ago. None of the robbers has been arrested.
After North Side pizza delivery driver Frank Christopher was shot and killed during a July 28 robbery, Aiello began to wonder why hustling pizza to customers has to be so dangerous.
“We try and change some of the things we do during deliveries, like sending two guys out together and double-checking phone numbers when (orders) come in, but it feels like we’re getting no help from the police,” he said.
Pizza drivers are carrying only $30 or $40 to make change, but that’s apparently enough for some of the city’s lowest thugs. Besides, the cash adds up for those who specialize in rolling drivers.
“This year, I’ve lost about $500 to holdups, and that’s money I’ll never get back,” Aiello said, clearly agitated.
Some of his drivers are well aware of the larger social and political issues connected with their otherwise mundane jobs.
“If we refuse to deliver to certain neighborhoods, the first thing people are going to say is that we’re discriminating against people because of race,” said driver Darryl Ringler, of Homestead. “But who wants to get shot over $20 and a pizza?”
The issue has surfaced in cities across the country when pizza delivery drivers steer clear of certain neighborhoods. The practice known as red-lining can make or break a community’s reputation. Who wants to live in a community where you can’t get a pizza sent to your door?
In 1996, Hill District resident Carl Allen Truss filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission. Truss said racism was the reason he couldn’t get pizzas delivered to his Schenley Heights home.
A judge dismissed the complaint about the same time two North Side teens, Dorian “Dough Boy” Lamore and Phillip “Rocket” Fox, received life sentences for killing North Side pizza delivery driver Jay Weiss in 1995.
For several years afterward, home-delivered pizza was about as scarce in this part of town as sidewalk rib joints in Castle Shannon. Only recently have pizza shops opened to serve the Central North Side. Few exist in the Hill and predominantly black East End communities.
Some see racism as the reason for the off-limits signs being erected in certain communities. But you really can’t blame the drivers.
“After all that’s happened, we don’t deliver to housing projects anymore, not unless the customers meet us at the guard’s booth where it’s well-lit and at least a little safer than going in among the houses,” Aiello said. “I really don’t know what else we can do.”