A Tale of Two Pizzas

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Okay, maybe things aren’t quite as dramatic as that, but the dual announcements of Gluten Free Pizza over the weekend by Domino’s Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese could not have been more different. One heralded inclusion and safety while the other caution and dashed hopes. Surprisingly, to me at least, the restaurant chain that made the right move was Chuck E. Cheese. Take a look at the videos from each restaurant and see the direction they are heading.

Chuck E. Cheese addresses two very important issues for it’s customers right away, those of food safety and inclusion. Being a diet-restricted kid, especially due to Celiac Disease, is not always easy. Adding the stress of bringing your own food or forgoing the meal altogether is an extra burden for the kid and their parents. By stating that they can offer a gluten free pizza and dessert, they allow the child to stop worrying about food and enjoy a party with their friends. The parents can be assured that the food is prepared safely and free of cross-contamination. They give the parent a wrapped disposable cutter and let them open the bag with the pizza. That is a lot of piece of mind.

The other thing that they are doing is rolling out the program slowly. This is something that they obviously don’t want to screw up. The memory of the attempt that California Pizza Kitchen made into the GF Pizza market was likely on their minds. They also partnered with well known gluten free food companies to produce the pizza (Conte’s Pasta) and dessert (Fabe’s All-Natural Bakery). These are made in gluten free facilities and show the depth of Chuck E. Cheese’s committment to their customers. If you are interested in learning more about what goes into a GF Certified facility, check out this article from Kinnikinnick Foods.

Will their GF pizza taste as good as their normal pizza? Like Domino’s, they rolled out a new recipe recently. Chuck E. Cheese’s motto is “Where a kid can be a kid” and simply needs a passable pizza for the parties.

There’s only four things we (Americans) do better than anyone else:

  • music
  • movies
  • microcode (software)
  • high-speed pizza delivery

– Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Domino’s, on the other hand, is “The World Leader in Pizza Delivery“. They have a different market than Chuck E. Cheese. You can tell from the tone of their pitch for their gluten free pizza. It is hip, edgy and, most importantly, makes fun of the fact that they need a disclaimer about who should eat this product. It is treated as a buzzkill that they even have to bring us all down with a mention of some icky disease. If you didn’t catch that, please go back and watch it again. Like the other video, Domino’s shows their pizza being prepared. Unlike the other video, they seem to brag about their lack of cross contamination prevention procedures. They can’t change gloves or buy another pizza cutter?

One thing Domino’s did do was hire the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to approve this product. The NFCA gave them an entire set of pages on their site devoted to explaining why a “Gluten Free” product was not okay for Celiacs. They also used the term “cross-contact” instead of “cross contamination”. They have also spent a lot of time and effort reaching out to gluten free and celiac bloggers to get the word out. They even engaged in some interesting backpedaling when someone said that the NFCA “certified” Dominos. The response from NFCA was that they “consulted”. They also awarded them a GREAT Kitchen designation, but that isn’t a certification…

Exchanges like the one below happened at several different times over the past day and I really don’t understand the NFCA response.

If it wasn’t feasible, why did they go along with it? Despite the disclaimers, celiacs and gluten sensitive people will eat this pizza and, given that they aren’t even using ANY separate equipment/utensils, some people will get hurt by this. Their own website says that 95% of celiacs are undiagnosed and that a 100% gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for celiac today.

Why did they go along with this? I don’t know. I haven’t researched the funding behind this transaction or the organization as a whole. I don’t know if there was any dissenting voices among the NFCA. I am hoping to read more about this in the coming weeks. This post by Amy Leger at Savvy Celiac documents her discussion with the founder of the NFCA and sheds some light on things, but I think there is more to be learned.

Domino’s has used twitter to reach out to many of the well-known gluten free celebrities. Since there is much consternation in the GF/Celiac community about the dedication of these folks to a gluten free diet that is, well, gluten free, this also hit a lot of people the wrong way. Here are some of the tweets issued by @dominos yesterday to tennis players Murray and Djokovic, Miley Cyrus, Juliette Lewis and Gwynyth Paltrow:

But today, they returned to their usual job. Saying “Sorry” for messed up orders.

Oh yeah, Gluten Sensitive folks, you will be just fine. Domino’s cares.

One more quote:

Remember the basic rules #glutenfree folks. Glutenfree pizza crust+shared lines+shared utensils/sauce/toppings+shared oven. Safe for #gf? NO — Shirley Braden, @shirleygfe (Gluten Free Easily)

There have been several very well written blogs about this topic already and not all of them have the same view that I do. In case you want to read more, I would recommend the following posts:

SpinningSpoons – Why Gluten Free Pizza and Dominos Does Nothing For Me
Savvy Celiac – Domino’s Gluten Free Pizza, Who is it for?
GlutenDude – Domino’s Goes Gluten Free. Or Do They?
Breaking Up With Captain Crunch – Domino’s Is Trying to Kill Me (Again)*
East Bay Celiac – A Day In The Life of a Celiac Day 7
Food Allergy and Intolerance Ink – Sort of gluten free pizza (Thanks for the tip, GlutenFreeMrsD!

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