Pizza Chain Bakes Itself into a Corner with Political Statement

PR pros know the phrases well: ‘Consumers want brands to take a stand. Brands can no longer stand on the sidelines.’ Yesterday (Jan. 5), Pizza Inn took a stand. In fact, the release it issued was titled “Pizza Inn Takes Bold Stand For Election Reform.” [Update, Jan. 7, 10am ET At some point Jan. 6 or today, Pizza Inn pulled its press release off the wires, likely in response to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. The full text of the release follows this article.]

Five sentences in, Pizza Inn announces its main point: “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.”

In a bad case of not staying in your lane, the pizza chain's release offers suggestions about how to restore trust in the electoral system. Though Pizza Inn claims its suggestions are "non-partisan," some of them seem similar to Republican talking points. Several were heard during today's abbreviated joint session of Congress.

This press release was the opinion of a small, privately held firm, right? Wrong.

A Public Company

The release quotes Brandon Solano, CEO of Rave Restaurant Group, the publicly traded parent-company of Pizza Inn. Based in the Dallas area, Pizza Inn has franchises in southeastern and southwestern US and overseas.

“Whether your candidate won or lost,” Solano says, “we should all have confidence in a process that helps us celebrate, or at least accept, the results."

Don't Overturn

After Solano's first quote, the release says Pizza Inn “is not advocating" overturning the election. On the other hand, the 62-year-old brand thinks it’s “inappropriate” to “hastily certify[ing] the results in Congress....”

“…[S]ince 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.”

During a joint session of Congress today, Texas senator Ted Cruz also called for a 10-day audit. However, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear during the joint session, the Trump campaign's "several dozen" legal suits challenging election results were rejected.  In response, Cruz told lawmakers that if you're confident the courts were correct, you shouldn't be concerned about an additional audit.

Eyes Wide Open

In case you’re wondering why a company would intentionally take a stand on such a divisive issue, the release assures readers, “We fully understand the risks of wading into such heated political waters, but we believe some things–such as America's election integrity–are too important to stand by silently.”

The company then declares itself “a leader in its communities.” After that, it makes a more measurable statement: “We at Pizza Inn aren't Constitutional scholars.”

The next sentence is more questionable: “We're experts at making amazing pizza and salads (that is, when governors and other elected officials aren't shutting down our dining rooms).” Nice dig there, eh?

6 Suggestions

Despite admitting its lack of constitutional law prowess, Pizza Inn offers ways to improve the electoral system. Its rationale: to “help restore the integrity of our system and, at a minimum, create an auditable paper trail so that future disputes can be resolved unequivocally.”

The suggestions: require valid identification of all voters; match signature, address and identification on all ballots; eliminate electronic voting machines until they have the ability to be audited; use paper ballots only; so that “we should not prioritize voter convenience over election integrity,” get rid of mail-in ballots; and limit absentee ballots to the “military, college students, disabled persons and the elderly.”

Making those suggestions was a mistake, says Inspire PR Group founder Hinda Mitchell, who advises many food industry players. "I always counsel clients to...avoid pretending expertise without the corresponding experience,” she says.

The Reaction

While the release garnered no media coverage yesterday that we're aware of, food industry watchers noticed it. Jonathan Maze, the veteran editor-in-chief of Restaurant Business Magazine, alerted his 12,000 Twitter followers. His tweet was unambiguous.

Maze wasn't alone in his negative reaction. Coverage in Dallas Eater today began as follows. "On Tuesday, Dallas-based pizza chain Pizza Inn issued a truly bizarre statement in support of President Trump’s repeatedly debunked claims of election fraud."

In addition, Dallas CultureMap, led its story today this way: "A Dallas company previously noted only for mediocre pizza has decided to wade into politics."

We requested a comment this morning from Pizza Inn through Champion Management, its PR firm. "Unfortunately, I can’t provide any additional detail on client communication.  Any comment would need to come from Pizza Inn as this is their announcement," Champion VP Jami Sharp emailed us. She forwarded our request for comment. At press time we'd not heard from Pizza Inn.

Ready for Vilification

In the release, Solano returns with an obvious statement: "We will no doubt be vilified by some for these reasonable and responsible suggestions."

He adds, "We may even be accused of supporting voter suppression for recommending solutions that we believe would advance the cause of election integrity. But pursuing this worthy, non-partisan goal is not suppression; it's democracy in action."

Many would say those sentences are questionable.

Solano continues, "We feel that we have a responsibility as a proud and patriotic American company to go on-the-record with our concerns, and our recommendations."

A Peaceful Plea

Presciently, considering the activities in DC today, the release ends with a plea. “Pizza Inn respects citizens' rights to agree or disagree with us, boycott us or visit us in solidarity. We simply ask that each of us remains civil in our discussions, confident in the knowledge that we all love our country and want what's best for it.”

Before Nike supported Colin Kaepernick, it had research about how its stance might hurt its brand. Similarly, Mitchell says, "My only hope is that [Pizza Inn] has a boatload of consumer data that says their current customer base is aligned entirely behind this message."

In the end, though, Mitchell is incredulous. "It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which a PR professional would advise a client or company to issue a release like this," she says. Her objection is not political, but concerns business. "There's a real risk in taking a position that 6 out of 10 Americans do not agree with," she says, citing a December 2020 NPR/PBS/Marist poll.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him @skarenstein

Text of the Pizza Inn Release

Pizza Inn Takes Bold Stand For Election Reform

Widespread concerns over fraud demand commonsense changes to rebuild unity and confidence


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Pizza Inn 

Jan 05, 2021, 14:56 ET


DALLASJan. 5, 2021  -- Pizza Inn is known as America's Hometown Pizza Place because the brand stays squarely focused on creating a close-knit community centered on traditional American values. These values include the preservation of American democracy, which millions of brave men and women have fought to protect. And our democracy's very foundation relies on fair and transparent elections.

As the New Year begins, our nation continues to be divided over the results of the recent 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.

"Like most Americans, we are alarmed by the uncertainties and resulting lack of faith in our election system," said Brandon Solano, Chief Executive Officer of Rave Restaurant Group, Inc. "We have a right to fair elections with unchallenged legitimacy, and that begins with a system that is both transparent and secure. Whether your candidate won or lost, we should all have confidence in a process that helps us celebrate, or at least accept, the results. The current election system is dangerous for our democracy, breeding uncertainty, unrest and in some extreme cases, political violence. This has to stop."

Pizza Inn is not advocating to overturn the election, nor do we think hastily certifying the results in Congress tomorrow is appropriate. 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.

We fully understand the risks of wading into such heated political waters, but we believe some things – such as America's election integrity – are too important to stand by silently.

In addition, as a leader in its communities, Pizza Inn is asking lawmakers to take steps to rebuild confidence in the voting process so that America's hometowns can come together to celebrate our democracy in future elections.

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). Nevertheless, we believe that making the following commonsense changes to our federal election laws will help restore the integrity of our system and, at a minimum, create an auditable paper trail so that future disputes can be resolved unequivocally:

  • Requiring valid identification of all voters;
  • Matching signature, address and identification on all ballots;
  • Eliminating electronic voting machines until they have the ability to be audited;
  • Exclusively using paper ballots, for audit and recount purposes;
  • Eliminating mail-in ballots, as we should not prioritize voter convenience over election integrity; and,
  • Restricting absentee ballots, with exceptions for military, college students, disabled persons and the elderly.

"We will no doubt be vilified by some for these reasonable and responsible suggestions," continued Solano. "We may even be accused of supporting voter suppression for recommending solutions that we believe would advance the cause of election integrity. But pursuing this worthy, non-partisan goal is not suppression; it's democracy in action."

"We feel that we have a responsibility as a proud and patriotic American company to go on-the-record with our concerns, and our recommendations," said Solano. "We believe in the United States of America and have confidence that God will see our country through this troubling time. We leave our thoughts and next steps in the hands of our elected officials…whoever they may be."

Pizza Inn respects citizens' rights to agree or disagree with us, boycott us or visit us in solidarity. We simply ask that each of us remains civil in our discussions, confident in the knowledge that we all love our country and want what's best for it.

About Pizza Inn
Founded in 1958, Pizza Inn is an international pizza chain featuring traditional and specialty pizzas, as well as freshly made pastas, sandwiches and desserts. Pizza Inn is a subsidiary of RAVE Restaurant Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: RAVE) based in Dallas. RAVE owns, franchises and supplies more than 200 Pizza Inn and Pie Five restaurants operating domestically and internationally. For more information, please visit pizzainn.com.

Contact: Jami Sharpjsharp@championmgt.com, 1-972-930-9933

SOURCE Pizza Inn