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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Dining at Denison: Debut and (Another) Review of Mikey's Late Night Slice


Okay, so as many students noted, the PizzAssault truck of Mikey's Late Night Slice did not actually make a late night appearance. But neither the unintended "misnomer" nor the brisk, final day of winter stopped countless Denisonians and Granvillians alike from supporting LNS throughout its first visit to Denison's campus.


When I learned last semester that one of our main dining halls would be closed for the rest of the semester for renovations, I wondered how possible or realistic it would be to bring a food truck/s to campus. As it turns out, Dining Services General Manager Niles Gebele was very much open to the idea, as was Mikey Sorboro, CEO of Columbus-based Mikey’s Late Night Slice. I had asked Mikey to join us on campus for the second semester kick-off of this year’s Food and Culture Colloquium, after which Niles and I proposed the idea to him. A few short months later and with the support of the rest of the Dining Services team and staff members throughout campus, news of the LNS truck making its way to campus hit my email. It was really going to happen. As Niles, Kristin and many others know, I've been working to control my excitement in anticipation for their arrival. (I hope I haven't come across as dramatic as that last sentence reads in my head.) Alas, as the hour drew near, Maureen and I headed over to where we thought the truck would be parked; exactly at 11am, LNS arrived in all its pizza truck glory.


Within a matter of minutes, I had my first slice in hand (Spicy Pepperoni) and quickly it made its way to my stomach. Clearly, I've been waiting for this for quite some time.


As I mentioned to an extent in my last post, I wonder to what extent I've been talking up another one of my Columbus favourites a little too much. Not that I was worried, but very thankfully, it seems I'm not the only one who enjoyed the fact that the truck was bestowing Grilled Cheezuses and whole pies in exchange for cash and credit/debit card swipes.


After work, I made my way back to the truck (I should note I had left the first time around with a second serving in the form of a Baby Cheezus made with a slice of Mushroom w/ Roasted Garlic) to get a sense of how the day had been going. Given the steady flow of customers, waits in line were minimal; given the time of day and the size of our campus, the crowd was friendly, welcoming and in a positive way, it's just a different environment. By the time the final big rush approached (around 6:15pm), over 60 pizzas had been hand formed, topped, cooked and served to faculty, staff, students and community members who waited patiently for the fresh, hot pizza. And as if we needed further proof of a successful slice, quite a few came back for seconds. [As for me, I had my third slice of the day--Plain Pepperoni Baby Cheezus--for dinner.]


Throughout the evening hours, I randomly gathered opinions of the student-majority pizza goers and witnessed the excitement on many of their faces, as well as the faces of those trying to make sense of the "toned down" version of the menu. "I like this truck." "It's a good change for Denison." "This made my day." "This pizza is great; I need more of the LNS sauce." At one point, I joined a few students around a table and declared them to be my informal focus group. Among their comments: "This pizza isn't as greasy, if at all, as others I've had." "The crust is really crispy." "Pizza is simple, but there's something different about this." When I wrote my first review of Mikey's back in January, I claimed that LNS was serving "pizza with personality." Of all the comments I heard today, and of which there was unanimous agreement to further illustrate the last student comment above, "This pizza has energy."


Indeed, there is a special persona and experience that comes from paying for, eating a slice of and leaving with a Late Night slice. Above is a photo of today's PizzAssault employees: Joe, Ben and Levi. And for eight hours today--from what I witnessed from the first slice to when I returned for one of the last ones this evening--all three of them put and conveyed their energies into the pizza they made and served. Simply put, it was/is their enthusiastic energy that we all felt coming from them that added to the (midday/early evening) Late Night Slice experience; it is this energy that propelled their unequivocal success and ramped up their already strong product and presence.


And as I reflect on this financial and even social success, I'd like to conclude this post with three general observations. 1) Eating is a communal act. Whether diners were eating solo, in pairs or in a group, there's a relationship of sorts automatically being built between the vendor and the buyer. From this, a sense of community occurs when basic friendliness is apparent, evident and natural. 2) As such, the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) conveyed by the vendor or to put another way those who prepare the food for you, the diner, will and does impact your dining experience. I am convinced that LNS could be pushing out sub-par pizza (which they aren't, by any stretch of the imagination), but their belief in something "so simple" is captivating for the consumer. 3) Denison's dining culture, I want to believe, is more than the convenience culture than we'd like to think. Though I admit that folks did enjoy the fact that it's very convenient that the food truck was here on campus (who knows how other businesses would fare if the food was brought to the diner), but in many instances throughout the day, I witnessed classmates, colleagues, friends, communities sit down and eat together. Sure these could be seen as special, one time or rare occurrences, but I'm going to claim now that we are in the midst of a cultural dining shift on our campus.


With gratitude for Joe, Ben and Levi taking the time to visit and test out the PizzAssault truck on our campus, and with equal gratitude for the enthusiasm I've witnessed and continue to witness from Dining Services since I've been here at Denison, I sign off fulfilled in learning more about our community through the food we eat.


The Mikey's LNS PizzAssault truck will be back on campus this Thursday (March 21st) from 11am-7pm. Please continue to support them and plan to visit them at some point during the day! Only credit/debit cards and cash are accepted. Oh, and to save you some time, a "Grilled Cheezus" is slices of American cheese sandwiched between two full slices of pizza; the "Baby Cheezus" is half the size of the Grilled Cheezus, but just as "blasphemilicious". For my entire album of pizza photos from LNS's Denison debut, click here.

2 comments:

  1. Shoot me an e-mail at my day job, I would like to discuss some additional food truck options and opportunities with you as well as a cooking class.

    jellison@ECDI.org

    ReplyDelete
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