The Dudley do-rights of living-wage pies sadly learn that virtue on parade doesn’t sell.
Dudley Dough billed itself as “pizza with purpose.” It turns out that those in the business of purpose cannot long stay in the business of pizza. The purpose of business is, unfortunately for Dudley Dough, business, not purpose.
Dudley Dough, if it did not know capitalism, at least knew market research. Selling pizza with generous toppings of social justice, one would think, hits the palates of Boston just right even if it strikes Boise like mayonnaise on chocolate ice cream. This is the city, after all, that attempted to ban Chick-fil-A for its owner’s unfashionable religious outlook.
“We pursue social wealth, not greed, as the driving force of commerce,” the restaurant’s menu proclaims, seeking to empower workers “with just pay, dignity, and a voice in their workplace.” But workers minus jobs lack pay and a voice in their workplace if not their dignity.
Exorbitant pricing certainly did not undo Dudley Dough. They charged $12.50 for a 14-inch pizza, $2.25 for muffins, and $1.90 for a large “Maine Root Soda.” All that and the smug came free.
But the so-called “living wage,” even when coupled with Social Justice Mondays, necessarily jeopardized the life of the novel business. “The true minimum wage is zero,” Milton Friedman wrote 45 years ago in Newsweek, “the amount an unemployed person receives from his nonexistent employer.” The example of Dudley Dough validates Freidman’s wisdom even if the pizza-purpose proprietors do not care to admit it.
“While much good has come from Dudley Dough, sales have not met expectations,” Bing Broderick, the executive director of the nonprofit backing the operation, explained in a letter announcing the closing. “Our very compelling and aspirational vision for a fair-wage pizza shop was vital and appreciated but after two years of operation, it is still far from breakeven, which is necessary for its success (to be able to elevate staff wages further, which is a central tenet of the mission). Our board determined that Haley House could not continue to subsidize it — to remain open would involve jeopardizing Haley House for the future. Last month, through close business analysis of operations and trends, our board made the very difficult decision to close Dudley Dough by the end of the year.”
Plenty of businesses committed to profits rather than social justice shutter after two years. So, perhaps the proprietors of the pie-in-the-sky pizza pies shuttered as a result of the rough-and-tumble world of capitalism and not the socialistic vision rigidly held by its backers. Whatever the cause, its demise need not inspire too many tears.
A terribly perverse, and corrupt, quality colors a pizza parlor seeking to win customers out of political solidarity and not taste, quality, atmosphere, or some other attribute that normally attracts normal people to restaurants. It leaves a bad aftertaste that does not involve the oregano, tomato sauce, or even the goat cheese relied on for some of the pizzas. Even Bostonians, apparently, do not totally fall for the total politics mindset.
Unfortunately, politics drives so much with no connection to politics. Late-night comics use their platform to lobby for legislation rather than tell jokes. Athletes gain attention for their antics on the sidelines during the national anthem rather than their exploits on the field during games. Even a recent visit to the New York public library revealed sign outside of its shop declaring, “We Should All Be Feminists.”
Politics encroaching on ball fields and comedy stages and and pizza parlors makes for a joyless society. It also guarantees that we cheer for the wrong things, laugh at unfunny jokes, and proclaim the disgusting delicious.
Bostonians want their pizza made by Italians (or Greeks), not social justice warriors, however much that prejudicial message grates the ears of those who have no ears. They want to eat pizza, not a cook’s politics. And they do not much care about the hourly wage of those making their food so long as it tastes good.
If nothing else, Dudley Dough succeeded in showing the failure of non sequitur ventures that mistake “purpose” for a real purpose.