Built on the promise of $1 slices, Vancouver pizzeria sees inflation take a bigger piece of the pie

·3 min read
Glenn Deck, owner of Pizza 2001 in Vancouver, used to sell slices for less than a dollar each. Now the cheapest slices Deck sells are $3.50 after tax. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)
Glenn Deck, owner of Pizza 2001 in Vancouver, used to sell slices for less than a dollar each. Now the cheapest slices Deck sells are $3.50 after tax. (Rafferty Baker/CBC - image credit)

Vancouver was once the place to be if you were hungry and had a dollar burning a hole in your pocket.

In the late '90s, the downtown core was chock-a-block with independent pizza shops offering a pizza slice for only a loonie.

Glenn Deck, owner of Pizza 2001, says there were at least five buck-a-slice pizzerias within three blocks of his place on the corner of Seymour and Pender, including a rival shop right next door.

"That was typical of Vancouver at the time," Deck said of the city's cheap eats. "It was pizza and sushi."

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

Anthony Falco, an international pizza consultant, visited around a dozen buck-a-slice pizza places back in the early 2000s, and marvelled at how there could be such a concentration of low-cost pizzerias.

"I was like, this is amazing," he said from Barcelona, where he is working on a Detroit-style pizzeria. "Getting a pizza for a dollar is almost like a magic trick."

Falco feels Vancouver was a pioneer when it came to cheap pizza, saying the trend eventually made it to New York around the time of the 2008 financial crisis.

Now, though, a slice at Pizza 2001 costs $3.50, including tax, and Deck says inflation is threatening the future of his business, which has built its reputation on low prices.

$1 slices a thing of the past

Deck says he used to go two to three years before raising prices, but in the last year alone he has had to bump up prices twice due to rising costs.

"It's unprecedented," he said. "I've never seen prices go up the way they have in the last nine months ... it's everything."

Deck says he pays $27 for a bag of flour that used to cost $19. The cost of cheese is up six per cent, the price of tomatoes have risen from $32 to $43 a case while that of pineapples, he says, has more than doubled.

Canada's inflation rose to 6.7 per cent in March, far more than economists were expecting and a full percentage point higher than February's already 30-year high.

Falco says higher-end restaurants are better equipped to weather inflation, since their customers are less price-sensitive than a small dollar-pizza place that relies on volume sales to turn a profit.

Surviving a pizza price war

Deck's aversion to charging more dates back to a minor price war he had with the pizza shop next door in 2004.

That year, he said, rising costs forced Pizza 2001 to bump up the price of a slice to $1.25 while its neighbour, FM Classic, held steady at $1. Foot traffic to Deck's place dropped.

"My neighbour stayed a quarter behind me," he said. "I went to $1.25, he stayed at a dollar. I went to $1.50, he went to $1.25 and it went like that for a number of years."

Uncertain future

Deck was 30 when he opened shop 26 years ago, and he has managed to outlast most of his old buck-a-slice rivals. The pizza place that was right next door is now a bubble tea shop.

Pizza 2001 never closed during the pandemic, although Deck says he was forced to let go of staff. He hopes traffic at the shop picks up enough so he can bring staff back.

Rafferty Baker/CBC
Rafferty Baker/CBC

The one-two punch of the pandemic followed by inflation has put Deck's future in doubt.

He says he thinks he'll still be slinging pizza, either at his current shop or elsewhere. What he's not sure about is when he'll be able to stop.

"The early retirement plans are gone," he said. "That's just not in the cards anymore."

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