Downtown Eugene has lost a late night greasy staple.
On Sept. 7, the Portland-based regional pizza chain Sizzle Pie abruptly closed its downtown Eugene location across the street from Kesey Square. The pizza chain’s owner and co-founder Matt Jacobson says the decision was made for financial reasons. The closure occurred with the company’s new Hillsboro branch on the way.
Eugene Weekly spoke with several workers who say that the closing came out of nowhere and followed a recent meeting with an official from Sizzle Pie’s Portland headquarters. Workers brought up desires for a wage increase and an early stage discussion on unionizing at that August meeting. The now-former employees requested anonymity due to fears they expressed of employer retaliation.
Sizzle Pie staff had explored unionizing since pre-pandemic days. But recently some workers had been in touch with workers at other organizations who had begun unionizing, including Starbucks, SpaceBuds: The Dispensary and White Bird’s CAHOOTS. Workers had also reached out to the Restaurant Workers United organization for tips on unionizing.
Two weeks ago, some Sizzle Pie staff members met with a corporate official to talk about concerns, workers say. At the meeting, workers reiterated that they wanted pay increases, and they provided information about how much employees at other pizza spots in town were getting paid. “We were pulling up facts that other pizza jobs get $16 an hour and paid out tips every night,” a worker says. “We were adamant how busy we are in one of the busier pizza shops in Eugene given the location.”
But Sizzle Pie corporate didn’t seem interested in talking about wages, workers say. The official was more focused on installing an air conditioning unit, so the location wouldn’t have to close down due to extreme kitchen heat anymore, and a new coffee machine.
The next week, staff received a notice that Sizzle Pie corporate was hosting an all-staff meeting on Sept. 7 with Jacobson.
While at the meeting, Jacobson told employees that the office space lease was coming up and the company had to make a decision on the future of the location. But that begs the question of the timing of the previous staff meeting, a worker says, where staff were asking for raises and were in the early phases of exploring a union. “I’ve never met him but he seemed cold and laughed at us,” one worker says of Jacobson. “Someone called him a child and then he shut the meeting down.”
At the meeting, employees kept asking Jacobson questions about why he was closing the store, and at times he tried to remove himself from making the decision to shut it down, even throwing local management under the bus, another worker says.
The closing affects about 30 to 40 employees, workers say, many of whom weren’t working full time. Sizzle Pie did provide a two-week severance paycheck for employees based on estimated loss of hours. Sizzle Pie didn’t cash out employee paid time off, which is a part of the employer-employee agreement, they add.
After nine years at the downtown building near Kesey Square, Jacobson tells EW via email, the company closed the downtown location because it had been struggling from the effects of the pandemic, decreased foot traffic and an increase in operational costs. These issues were the reason why the company laid off its crew, he adds.
“Some people’s perception is that the pandemic is over but the evolving effects are still very much with us,” Jacobson says. “There are a lot of small businesses that people may not realize are actually hanging on by a shoestring. I’d like to urge everyone to go out and support the businesses in the community that they love and help keep them open.”
Jacobson didn’t respond to EW’s questions regarding his knowledge of union talks or workers asking for a pay increase two weeks ago.
But workers tell EW that it’s difficult to hear Jacobson talk about price increases and concerns about busyness and then open a new store in Hillsboro.
“If you have to close down a business, you’re not an awful person,” one of the workers says. “But they did it in a shitty way.”