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Did Pizza Inn hire Nero and his fiddle?

The venerable chain’s parent company issued its assessment Tuesday of the 2020 presidential election, begging the question, “Why?”
Photograph: Shutterstock

Here at Restaurant Business, we routinely field press releases that leave us wondering, “What could they have been thinking?” Just Tuesday, for instance, we learned that a Flame Broiler restaurant franchise is a better cure for operators on the financial brink than such trumpeted moves as vaccinating the nation against COVID-19 (“Unfortunately, there isn’t a shot that can help restaurants recover from the pandemic,” the release somberly noted before declaring a Flame Broiler deal to be the real ticket back to prosperity.) Our dropped jaws were still being eased back into the shut position when we were informed by the Dog Haus hot dog chain that it had managed to “emerge on top” of the restaurant industry in 2020, an upset that McDonald’s and Starbucks have yet to acknowledge.

But those attention-grabbers just loosened the neck for what would prove the real head spinner of the day, if not the low-jaw mark of a 36-year career spent covering restaurants. Almost simultaneous with being warned that it may be delisted from NASDAQ because its stock price had dropped to pocket-change levels, Pizza Inn parent Rave Restaurant Group issued a nearly 700-word press release on the concerns It has about the November presidential election.

“Millions of Americans believe that widespread voter fraud may have changed the results of the presidential election, We believe this is probable, but the fact that we can't say for certain is what concerns us most,” the release states. “We are simply saying that since we don't know what happened, the prudent course of action is to conduct a 10-day audit of the vote to make certain that the man we inaugurate as president of the United States on January 20 is the rightful winner.”

It proceeds to list the changes that should be made to the electoral system, including the elimination of electronic voting machines and most absentee ballots.

If you’re looking for some connection to the pizza business, you won’t find it. Pizza Inn’s rationale is that it’s a chain with traditional American values, and “these values include the preservation of American democracy.”

"Like most Americans, we are alarmed by the uncertainties and resulting lack of faith in our election system," Rave CEO Brandon Solano said by way of justification. "We have a right to fair elections with unchallenged legitimacy, and that begins with a system that is both transparent and secure.”

Good points, but don’t you run a pizza business that’s wheezing? Tuesday’s delisting was the second time Rave has been booted from the Nasdaq since October. The company had the steepest drop in stock price last year among all public restaurant companies. Pizza Inn’s same store sales fell 22% for the chain’s most recent quarter. Papa John’s posted a 23.8% comp gain for domestic operations in the same three months.

Nero, here’s your fiddle and bow.

We suspect that Rave is purposely stirring controversy as a diversion from problems within its own house. After all, as the company acknowledges in the release, “We at Pizza Inn aren't constitutional scholars. We're experts at making amazing pizza and salads (that is, when governors and other elected officials aren't shutting down our dining rooms.)”

If Solano wanted to sit atop a flagpole for two weeks, eating nothing but Pizza Inn slices, we’d shimmy up to provide the napkins. Publicity stunts are part of the restaurant marketing game, but stoking a red-hot controversy of this importance for the sake of attention is a different matter altogether, particularly since franchisees are likely the ones to feel any negative fallout. Pizza inn is a largely franchised system, which means any impact on sales will hit the restaurants’ actual operators. As was noted in a number of social media posts, it’s a fair assumption that pizza lovers come in both liberal and conservative versions. Why risk alienating one group or the other for the sake of attention?

If there’s any vote that should be re-taken, it’s the balloting by Rave’s board on Solano’s leadership.

Update: As of yesterday evening, Rave Restaurant Group had pulled the press release off its website. The company used by Rave to distribute the release, Cision, also made the release unavailable. 

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