We weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Since October is both National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we wanted to put the two together in a big way. And since we’re cyclists, we wanted to use a bike ride as a hook to draw attention. The birth behind the Slice of Hope idea, which we detailed several times in various issues of Pizza Today last year, really was that simple. But, considering the fragile state of the economy, would pizzerias support a cause that isn’t local, we wondered?
Our initial research indicated that America’s pizzerias would in fact answer the call, so we took the plunge. And, boy, am I ever glad we did.
Slice of Hope meant several things to me personally. It was a test of my physical and mental endurance, for starters. But, beyond that, it was a means — if we could pull it off — to bring the pizza industry together in a philanthropic way that had never before been attempted. Not only could we help fight breast cancer — a formidable foe to society, no doubt — but we could also show America that the pizza category is hands down the most giving, community-minded segment in all of foodservice.
When I worked side by side with Garrett Mullen and Tutta Bella Pizzeria founder Joe Fugere to create and launch the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation (KMBCF), the goal was, again, simplistic enough: to ensure that money given by pizzerias would go to breast cancer research, not for a large charity’s payroll. KMBCF is volunteer-staffed, which enables it to pass on the money it receives without retaining a large percentage for marketing, payroll, lobbying, etc.
So, heading into Slice of Hope, after the planning was finished, I had two real questions: will I survive this bike ride, and will many pizza companies take the plunge with Pizza Today and donate their time and effort?
Yes, and yes.
Pizza Today Art Director Josh Keown packed his bike and rode along with me from Portland to Seattle, and that made the four-day trip much more manageable. Together we logged between 50 and 60 miles per day, and we were provided world-class support by Pizza Today publisher Pete Lachapelle and Creative Director Rick Daugherty. Pete was supposed to accompany us as well, but an injury kept him on the sidelines and relegated him to mechanical support. As for Rick, he took all the photos you see in this article, as well as lots and lots of video footage that we’re still poring over.
Collectively, the four of us had a blast. Finishing the ride in Seattle on October 7 was encouraging, but the real reward came when we got back home to Louisville, Kentucky, and watched over the next three months as all the letters of support and donations rolled in.
In all, more than 200 pizza companies filled out our pledge form and agreed to donate a percentage of October 7 sales to KMBCF through Slice of Hope. At the time of this writing in early December, roughly 175 of those companies had followed through on their pledge by mailing in checks. As of December 12, the day we went to press with this story, the total amount raised was right at $100,000. If the remaining 25 pizzerias come through with their pledged amounts, that number will grow by another $5,000 to $8,000 by the time this issue is in your hands!
As I reflect back on Slice of Hope, the thing I’m most proud of is that so many small, independent pizzerias found a way to make October 7 a memorable event in their local communities. I heard from shops in Montana and Texas and New Hampshire that found unique ways to make the day theirs. Some rented bouncy houses for kids. Others “auctioned off” pink cupcakes or sports memorabilia. Many created special pizzas. As a result, the majority of Slice of Hope participants that took the time to write me after the fact have talked about getting good press coverage and, more importantly, generating goodwill with their customers.
Several of them reported their best lunch day ever or a 35 to 40 percent sales increase as compared to an average Friday. One place ran out of dough and started selling a Slice of Hope sandwich for $10.
In short, these pizzerias did something remarkable: they made a difference. For that, I am thankful. How can we not do it again in 2012?
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief at Pizza Today.