Here's Why NYC Is Saying Goodbye To The Dollar Slice
We lost a true American icon this week: the dollar slice. Now technically $1.50 at all 2Bros. Pizza locations in New York City (a whole 50 percent increase, mind you), the dollar slice is the latest casualty of inflation.
Slices of pizza that cost a dollar are arguably more American than apple pie, and certainly more unifying. Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye once wisely said, "A mac & cheese is something that can actually be so personal," and that's precisely how New Yorkers think about pizza. We've all scraped together quarters for a rent-week slice during lean years, or shared half-drunk 2 a.m. slices to soak up one too many tequila sodas.
Enjoying a cheap slice, simple as it seems, is also incredibly complicated.
A Pizza History
Like many food innovations, the dollar slice was spawned from recession-era thriftiness. Pizza historian and tour guide Scott Wiener claimed in a Vice article that the dollar-slice restaurant boom really happened during the financial crisis of 2008.
"It became a great market for high volume, low-ticket price foods—the slices," said Wiener. "People realized that if they made a lower-quality pizza and a smaller margin, [they] could sell more.”
Used by many dollar-slice owners as just a promotion to get people in the door, the overwhelming popularity of dollar slices amongst construction workers and stockbrokers allowed the pricing to stick for many years.
How Was It Only A Dollar?
The origins of the dollar slice's pricing are complicated any way you slice it. Many spots were able to offer a dollar slice due to low rents, years of cheese surpluses, and low-priced ingredients sourced from poorly paid sectors of the agriculture industry. In their article, "The Life Cycle of the Dollar Slice: Waste & Labor," Serena Kleeman, Anna Sampson, and Patrick Colabella write that "It is a product that is, in a sense, 'for the people,' easily accessible to people of all different class backgrounds, yet its very existence rests on the people’s exploitation."
Keeping the $1 price tag also meant a decrease in quality. Reporter Liam Quigley, who has been logging New York City pizza slices since 2014, noted that there has been a steep decline in the amount of sauce on pizzas over the years. "I’m sure this is a cost-saving measure," Quigley said. "But the overall quality of your average slice in the city has definitely suffered."
The Future of the Dollar Slice
Eulogizing the dollar slice may not be all that tragic, though. In some ways, pizza joints charging more is a just harbinger of shifting labor systems across the country, as well as how we track inflation. Kleeman, Sampson, and Colabella bring up a crucial question about the real cost of cheapness as a brand: "Should these unfortunate discoveries stop us from celebrating a slice that provides food to so many New Yorkers?" In order to keep their bottom line, many dollar slice shops have been criticized for participating in a "race to the bottom," competing with other pizza shops to lower prices so much that it makes you question the legality of how they compensate their employees.
But the dollar slice gives as much as it takes. According to the New York Times, the earliest dollar-slice pizza stores were actually opened near homeless shelters. And even less vulnerable populations can all agree that dollar slices are a lifeline in more ways than one.
The loss of the dollar slice also means fewer spaces where folks across tax brackets can delight in the same, equalizing dining experience. There's an indelible sense of magic we've all felt from holding a greasy paper plate with a slice of pepperoni pizza, a neon-glow cast across our faces. And that's compounded by the fact that New York's dining scene (and general cost of living) has a high barrier for entry. Kleeman, Sampson, and Colabella note that the dollar slice "shines as one of those tiny miracles that makes life in the city a lot more bearable."
The dollar slice will soon be relegated to a "Back in my day..."-style of mythology. And as we all know, nostalgia can be deliciously complicated. But no one can deny the promise and possibility you can feel from having a box of hot pizza on your lap, just waiting to be shared.
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