Sizzle Pie Closed; Restaurant Blames Declining Business, Former Employees Say Otherwise
Last week, Sizzle Pie—a downtown pizza staple for college students, bar-hoppers, and bar-hopping college students—suddenly closed. The doors closed for good following a morning meeting with its employees and, contrary to the business’ claims, former employees believe it was the result of unionization efforts.
On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 7, the restaurant’s staff was called-in for a meeting where, instead of an expected continuation of the meeting a week prior, they were all laid off.
In a post on their website, Sizzle Pie says that they closed the location “because it struggled and lost money for years, over $100,000 so far in 2022 alone. With our lease coming to an end, the steep rise in operating costs, and reduced foot traffic, we were forced to make a hard choice.”
According to publicly available records, Sizzle Pie Empire received two PPP loans. One forgiven loan for $1.7 million in 2020 and another ongoing loan for $2 million in 2021.
After noting that they are “sad to leave the community” and have offered the former employees retroactive pay increases and severance checks, the post offered a line that, well, nobody asked for:
“We support all workers’ rights, including the right to choose when it comes to joining a union. In the end, our Eugene closure was due to the lease ending, the altered market conditions due to COVID, and as a response to large financial losses.”Sizzle Pie’s Statement
Despite this unrequested proclamation that the restaurant does, indeed, support “all workers’ rights,” its former employees feel that union organization was actually the reason for the closure.
Unionizing efforts for the staff at Sizzle Pie began when the Supreme Court struck down Roe. V. Wade, on June 24. At that time, employees considered doing a collective walk-out to join the march that passed by. Instead, they chose to not leave in fear of losing their jobs. That, and several other “disrespectful business practices on corporate Sizzle’s part” were “what set-off talk of unionization,” said Teagen Holmquist, an employee since early 2022.
According to Holmquist, some of the issues that the staff had gone to management about included a refusal to raise wages while purchasing new equipment and excessive heat in the kitchen.
“Legally, we can’t work if the kitchen is over 90-degrees and there were several times where the [kitchen] thermometer’s placement prevented us from going home,” Holmquist said, adding that management would often keep the thermometer “across from the ovens and over the prep line where it’s cooler.”
Kenji McCleary, a delivery driver, who was also hired in early 2022, said that “all cooks constantly talked about burning up on the line and we closed quite a few times simply because it got too hot inside.”
Despite these concerns and issues raised, the staff was asked to attend a morning meeting on Sept. 7 where all were laid off and the Sizzle Pie location permanently closed.
“We were ambushed with the co-founder, Matt [Jacobsen], along with two other men, telling us that Sizzle Pie was shut down for good, effective immediately,” said Holmquist. “We all came in for what seemed like a continuation of a meeting that we had a few weeks prior.” That previous meeting, Holmquist added, was a discussion about “wage increases and nightly tip cash-outs.”
Another former employee, Kenji McCleary, who had also worked there since early 2022, said that “the announcement of the entire store closure was a surprise but not one I had considered as a likely possibility.”
Other former employees said that the two men with Jacobsen that morning were Brian Hebb and Patrick Ramsey.
“All they did was sit there and stare at us like a dog that was in trouble during the meeting,” McCleary said of the atmosphere in the meeting. “Patrick [Ramsey] was the representative that came to the first meeting and took our feedback on improvements we wanted to see.”
McCleary added that “Matt [Jacobsen] said that they took our suggestions into consideration which seemed to be an outright lie seeing as they simply just laid us all off rather than working to fix [the] issues we laid out.”
“In my opinion, it’s union busting,” Holmquist said, about the shuttered location. “The timeline syncs up and Sizzle Pie has a lot to lose if we were to successfully unionize.”
Regarding unionization efforts possibly leading to the location’s closure, McCleary said “personally, I wouldn’t be surprised, all we were told was that the store wasn’t profitable.” McCleary added that “despite this, we were always busy and often short-handed on staff yet the failure of the company’s business strategy ended in punishment for their workers. When I brought this up to Matt Jacobson at the meeting, he laughed and dismissed that as ‘my opinion.’”
Holmquist also said that “[Jacobsen] laughed as he threatened our severance pay, and he laughed as he tried to throw our amazing store managers under the bus for his poor business strategy.”
“At one point during the meeting, after we had spoken out about how we were upset with the decision, Matt [Jacobsen] made a suggestion that we wouldn’t get our severance pay were we to continue to confront him, to which he then immediately backed down saying he just meant that ‘if we wanted are severance checks or not, they would be there tomorrow,’ McCleary said. “The meeting was cut short abruptly as it was clear Matt was too afraid of facing the people whose jobs he had just taken.”
Of all of the Sizzle Pie locations, only Eugene is closed according to their website. A previous attempt at opening two locations in New York failed when both closed in 2017. As for the former employees of the Eugene restaurant, they plan to move on and focus on their studies in school and/or find new jobs.
One thing that many will miss is the vegan ranch and Caesar dressings. Well, fear no more — a Reddit user posted the alleged recipes which had been previously posted to Facebook by a former employee from several years ago.
When reached for comment, a Sizzle Pie spokesperson, Nichole Vella, provided the same statement as posted to their website.