The eponymous two brothers of 2 Bros, New York City’s most ubiquitous and reliable dollar pizza chain, were slapped with a class-action suit earlier this week that alleges that they “built their dollar pizza empire on the backs of my clients and other workers by grossly underpaying them,” according to attorney Adam Slater. The suit alleges that employees of 2 Bros worked 60-to-70 hour weeks for less than minimum wage and no overtime. The brothers, Eli and Oren Halali, and their father Joshua, deny the allegations. It’s incredibly unlikely that they are innocent, but even if they are, the suit still makes me, as a loyal longtime 2 Bros customer, know in my heart that it’s time to move on from dollar slices.
The first 2 Bros opened in 2008 on St. Mark’s Place, when I was freshman at The New School. It was a few blocks from my dorm. I ate there several times a week, for two simple reasons: I had very little money and I loved pizza. I observed firsthand the dollar slice boom of the Recession, and rooted for 2 Bros in the Cheap Pizza War. As the years went by, I continued to eat 2 Bros, because I still had very little money, and I still loved pizza. 2 Bros was a comfort food: cheap, reliable, associated with good times, and tasty enough. 2 Bros is not great pizza, to be sure. But it always came out fast, warm, and cheesy enough that I never felt ripped off.
My friends and I would speculate about how 2 Bros managed to make enough money to not only stay afloat, but thrive (there are a dozen 2 Bros locations). Was it all volume? Was it low-quality ingredients? Did they have some sort of shady deal with landlords where they paid almost no rent? A New York Times piece from 2010 asked some of these questions, but left the important one unasked: was it because they were ripping off their employees?
I now feel guilty for not seeing what was so obvious and continuing to patronize 2 Bros even though the men who worked there were being taken advantage of. I’ve worked in restaurants, and I’ve seen how restaurant owners treat their Mexican and South American employees. Labor exploitation, especially of immigrant workers, is a structural problem in the foodservice industry. 2 Bros is far from the first pizza chain in New York to mistreat its employees: earlier this year, Papa John’s and Domino’s each settled with employees over labor violations.
This is the end of dollar pizza as I know it. 2 Bros will have to start paying its employees more, and prices will go up. The pizza will still be cheap, but it won’t be a dollar. And even if the owners of 2 Bros figure out a way keep prices low, the innocence for me is gone. My ignorance of the 2 Bros business model has been smashed, and there’s no going back. I can’t just enjoy a cheap slice of pizza while I’m in a hurry anymore. The excuse of not knowing is over. It’s hard to be a responsible consumer, but this is something I can manage. As I wrote earlier this week, I’m willing to pay market rate for a slice of pizza if the person making it is being paid fairly.
So farewell, 2 Bros. I’m a man now, and men have to eat pizza responsibly.
(Photo: Matthew Hurst)