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Oct 9, 2012 06:12 AM

Upper Crust files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Per a Boston Globe story this morning. I feel for its workers, and hope a place as good as Otto eventually takes over every Upper Crust location, but it's hard not to wish failure on the utter assholes that are its owners.

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    1. Or a place as good as Muqueca.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. I'm thinking you don't own a business with employees. No one who does, rejoices when another business hits hard times.

          30 Replies
          1. re: libertywharf

            And you sound like someone who has never eked out a living as a restaurant employee.

            Further, "hitting hard times" doesn't remotely describe what's going on here. The entire industry has gone through difficulties in the downturn; Upper Crust's problems are due to its owners' criminal behavior.

            As I've said here and elsewhere many times, I empathize with the workers, but I can't support a business run by such exploitative, abusive owners. It looks to me like ethical businesspeople with a superior product are stepping briskly into the closed UC locations: see Otto's recent expansion in Boston.

            You are welcome to spend your dining-out dollars as you see fit, of course.


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Any truth to the rumor that Jordan et. al. stole all of their recipes from (the far superior) Sweet Tomatoes Pizza in Newton Centre? They're very similar thin crust pies, but Sweet Tomatoes is way more consistent in quality. I've never really understood the Upper Crust hype.

              1. re: calvnhobs6

                Yes, the "Jordan Tobins, business plan / recipe thief" allegation was outlined in this Globe story:

                Not only did he allegedly steal their recipe (a tough claim to prove once you've made some tiny adjustment or two), but also opened his first UC store in a location Sweet Tomatoes had been eyeing for expansion. In retrospect, he looks like a scumbag from Day One.


                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Wow, that article doesn't leave too much room for doubt.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Interesting article.

                    i was aware of some of the content. In the "small world" dept,I've known Hedy of Sweet Tomatos since she was an infant. Ms 9 and I are friends and neighbors of her parents. Really dedicated and hard working woman who has worked hard for her success.

                    I have to give more credibility to her version of events.

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  Slim.. I agree and whether or not someone owns a business is irrelevant in their opinion of Upper Crust. I feel bad for the employees who may be affected..but in no way shape or form do I feel one iota of sympathy for the owners. They made their bed. Their bad behavior has been going on for years. Their business practices are something that any other reputable business owner would find intolerable..starting with the hiring and exploitation of illegal immigrants. No reputable business owner should defend that. I guess they fell on hard times once they had to actually pay their workers their competition does?
                  Added to that..their pizza isn't all that good.
                  That being said..I wonder if this Chapt. 11 declaration is a way to get around the numerous unresolved court cases they have.

                  1. re: BlueMagic

                    I'm no lawyer, but I don't think Chapter 11 protects you from criminal sanctions, just gives you room to maneuver while you make arrangements to pay existing creditors. There's a queue for who gets paid, too: the tax man is almost always first in line, and one of their big debts is to the Commonwealth.


                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      The other issue could be that a lot of small businesses are required by landlords to guarantee leases personally. So UC could reorganize but still leave the owners in a very bad spot. IF American Airlines/GM, etc declare bankruptcy, it'sunlikely that the top execs will be on the hook for anything. I'm not a lawyer either but I'm sure CH 11 doesn't protect you from criminal sanctions.

                      As faras their labor practices, I believe in "innocent until proven guilty." There's also the saying that where there's smoke, there's fire. However it shakes out, it just looks like andother sad biz story thar the only people may walk away with anything are the attorneys, liquidator or other entrepreneurs who may be able to buy restaurant equipment at pennnies on the $ (if they own it)

                      1. re: 9lives

                        I don't think there's much question of innocence on one score here: the US Department of Labor has issued two judgments against the Upper Crust for underpaying workers, one for $340K and another for $80K.

                        There is still an open MA attorney general investigation probing whether UC tried to recover the cost of these judgments by deducting money from the paychecks of the same workers it had underpaid previously; employees also have a class-action lawsuit pending on that issue. The whistleblower's suit is still pending, as far as I know, too.


                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            They could just do what a certain cambridge ice cream shop did and beg their customers to pay into a defense fund to pay off uncle sam.

                            1. re: jgg13

                              Fiscally irresponsible ice cream were then and are still a much beloved institution. Doubt people would pony up for these guys who have played every angle on ripping off their workers, franchisers, and government (besides being a non-noteworthy pizza producer in fancy clothes).

                              1. re: yarm

                                Sucker born every minute. Hordes of Phantom Phans have been told it's the best.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Okay..good point. True that it's difficult to avoid the tax man...! Geez..I guess there is no low that these guys won't sink to. They've taken advantage of just about everyone a business can take advantage I guess we can just add their creditors to that list.

                        2. re: BlueMagic

                          Its a bit of slippery slope discussing who is more ethical and who is not particularly in the restaurant industry. So while individuals may decide that certain actions are worth a "boycott" (there were past offenders mentioned here like the Super88, Cafe Belo, etc which apparently didn't), I am not a fan of the group think "we should be boycotting UC..."

                          I really think we should be focusing the chowishness of an establishment.

                          In any case, some of their competition has been fined and sanctioned too.



                            1. re: FinnFPM

                              It's an attitude that reflects the Chowhound Manifesto, which is essentially about being dedicated to the pursuit of good food of every stripe purely for the love of it, sharing tips with like-minded obsessives, and remaining unswayed by flashy packaging, industry hype and the so-called wisdom of crowds:


                              1. re: FinnFPM

                                chowishness aka deliciousness (which is an awkward word) is a made up adjective used on this board (and others) for many years. Limster tends to be able to state such ideas without the crutch of those words so please seek out his thoughts rather than mine. However, the thought is we are a collective in search of delicious food, so we give our own knowledge, take advantage of the ideas of others whose tastes we trust, but are always searching for some new pleasing food experience. Thus chowishness is individual, it can be relevant to a location (best Chicago dog in Boston, East Bay style Johnny Cakes), and its something that can change with time (yes, chowhounds have food trends too).

                                My experience is there isn't much intersection with those words and Upper Crust. And while I have even been to the city in Brazil mentioned in the stories (if anyone wants to know a good cheese and snack shop out of town...) and share concern for exploited workers, I am not convinced that UC is among the worst as far as worker abuse. The system here has largely worked and those concerned with the workers could help much more via other avenues (volunteering to teach English, rights, even donations to non-profit organizations) than boycotting the one business that got caught. Usually when working with other cultures you gain some free chow too. So we aren't helping the chowhound effort or much the workers themselves, by debating the UC story and boycotts.

                              2. re: itaunas

                                Good point about the slippery slope in general. Obviously..I meant to compare UC's business practices with businesses who actually play by the rules. Businesses who don't play by the rules don't deserve to be defended.

                                As far as the "chowishness" ( btw love that term!) of Upper Crust..well..that's not difficult to comment on. Based on the taste and quality of their pizza..there are probably 30 places I would go when craving a slice before I would go to Upper Crust. Frankly..their pizza just isn't all that good. In's easy enough to steer companions to Oregano's.

                                1. re: BlueMagic

                                  But it WAS good in the original Charles Street location for the first year or two, and then something changed. Food Foreshadowing perhaps.

                                  1. re: Bellachefa

                                    You are correct, it was better when they had just one and even two shops. But they expanded way too quickly to ensure that quality remained consistent. Even the original location became inconsistent, and the far flung locations just weren't good.

                                    I really liked the sauce (I realize a lot of people do not), and so have been wanting to try Sweet Tomatoes ever since that article JB cites first came out. But it's kind of out of the way.

                                    1. re: Alcachofa

                                      I have a Sweet Tomatoes just down the street, and it is very similar to UC. I'm not a huge fan of the tomato sauce at either place, but Sweet Tomatoes does have some great "fancy" pizzas, like one with yukon golds, fontina and truffle oil. They have good buff chix, too.

                                      1. re: nsenada

                                        They have an excellent shrimp pizza (red or white) as well.

                                      2. re: Alcachofa

                                        I've only eaten Sweet Tomatoes at the store once and really liked. As you could guess, they cater a lot of our building events...always a hit.

                                  2. re: itaunas

                                    Upper Crust seems to have been egregious in its actions and worth mentioning on this board.

                                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                      UC was more stupid than other offenders in their response after being caught and obviously did not follow or lacked advice of counsel. That is probably indicative of their overall business sense and I would expect a similar business outcome eventually, even w/o the court cases and bad press. However, there is nothing unusual in this story and I have seen much worse, but you can believe otherwise if you would like. Sanctions are good press and convenient for everyone involved. However, I think its worth discussing the larger "forest" of problems, but that is beyond the scope of the "chowhound" as its not chow (its a forest which has many pitfalls for both employee and in some cases employer). And I think we have lost sight of decent chow by focusing on trees which are also beyond the scope of chowhound in several recent discussions, in this case the tree is "I boycott UC in the name of workers rights, you should too." (Sorry, UC has already been fined multiple times and is probably pretty careful now, so immigrants working there are probably treated fairly well today and you aren't helping them. And its distracting attention from those who are being taken advantage of today).

                                      1. re: itaunas

                                        All excellent points, worth further discussion. Maybe if UC's owners hadn't ignored the sanctions for gross violations of the contract with their employees that they'd been caught dead to rights on, while they ran around flaunting private planes and yachts, we wouldn't be calling special attention to their sins versus the industry's sins in general. I think the egregiousness of their greed, hubris and folly is big part of what makes it noteworthy here.


                                        1. re: itaunas

                                          I think that trying to entirely remove the political from the act of -- sigh -- "chowing" is misguided. Food is political, and there's no getting around it. We need not constantly be focused on this fact, but anyone who tries to ignore it does so at his own peril. A lot of things happen before the food is on your plate. If we care how a food tastes, then we care about where it comes from; if we care about how it's made, then we care about who made it.

                                          1. re: FinnFPM

                                            Indeed, which is further demonstrated by the fact that the mods have permitted this discussion to go on this long.

                                2. re: libertywharf

                                  I felt sorry for Madoff's secretaries....

                                3. good riddance to bad people who made bad pizza.