Charlie Redd has spent his entire adult life in the restaurant industry. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in the mid-1990s, he staged at some of the best restaurants on the East Coast before landing in Boston. In 2018, he bought Dragon Pizza, a pizza shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, hunkering down throughout the pandemic and emerging out the other end a successful neighborhood pizza joint.
Redd refers to Dragon Pizza as “a punk rock pizza shop”: “Every decision we make around here is, what would Fugazi do if they ran a pizza shop?,” as he puts it. “Other than marrying my wife, it was the second best decision i ever made in my life,” he tells Rolling Stone of buying Dragon Pizza.
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Redd was vaguely familiar with One Bite, the hugely popular pizza review series created by controversial Barstool Sports CEO Dave Portnoy. In Portnoy’s series, he visits pizza places all over the country, trying a slice and submitting a specific score between one and 10. The impact of the show is so great that a good review can make a pizza establishment national news, and Portnoy, who has about 4.5 million followers on Instagram and 2.9 million on Twitter, has been referred to by Slate as “America’s most make-or-break food critic.”
People would come into Redd’s restaurant suggesting that he ask Portnoy to come review Dragon Pizza. But Redd watched his videos, and was not a fan. He had heard rumors of other mom-and-pop businesses going under due to poor reviews from Portnoy, and he took issue with the central conceit of the series, as well as the bombastic, fratty persona Portnoy had built for himself.
“A restaurant is a lot of work,” he says. “I’m not gonna give someone my satisfaction of judging all my work and the hundreds of hours my partner and I put in with one bite. It’s not fair. I was like, fuck that guy.”
Last Tuesday, however, Portnoy finally made an appearance at Dragon Pizza with a cameraperson to do a review. When Redd heard from one of his staff that Portnoy was there, he decided to go outside and talk to him. “I told him, ‘I feel what you do to small business is not right. It’s unfair and unjust,'” he says.
What happened next became national news last week, trending on Twitter and even becoming a subject of Portnoy’s Friday interview with Tucker Carlson. Redd and Portnoy got in an extremely profane altercation on the street, culminating with Portnoy attacking Redd for his physique and mimicking his speech. Shortly thereafter, Redd posted a photo of himself flipping the bird with the caption, “F@$K you and the Stool you came in on, Dave Douchebag. Your show sucks. You suck, and you truly are the classless tool I thought you are.”
“We put it out there and promoted it,” says Redd. “And then we just waited.”
He didn’t have to wait long. On Friday, Portnoy posted a video on his channel calling Dragon Pizza “the worst pizza place in America,” calling it “trash,” criticizing it for being “floppy” and for having too much parmesan, giving it a measly 6.4 rating. (Redd concedes he may have a “heavy hand with the parmigiano reggiano,” which may not cater to every palate, but disputes the floppiness of the slice: “We cook a pizza to the standard we set. I know my staff is well-trained. We cooked it to the specs we always cook them to.”)
The original review has garnered more than 500,000 views since publication; Portnoy even promoted the clip in his interview with Carlson, saying he was excited to come on the show because “I knew your crowd, like my crowd, would be like, ‘Fuck that guy!’,” and claiming Redd is “what’s wrong with this country.” Redd, for his part, levels similar criticisms against Portnoy and Carlson, saying the reference to the fight in the Carlson interview “made something that is not political at all, very political.” (For what it’s worth, the top comment on Portnoy’s Instagram post about the fight reads, “Owner has to be a liberal.”)
“Of course it exacerbated the harassment,” Redd says about Portnoy’s Tucker Carlson appearance. “Of course it did. I don’t know why he would take a disagreement about pizza and move it into the political realm. I don’t see the element of that. Im just having to live with it. And it sucks.”
Immediately after the interview was posted, Redd says, he and his team faced an onslaught of harassment from Barstool fans, calling it “absolute hell.” Dragon Pizza’s entry on Yelp has been spammed with one-star reviews from ardent Barstool Sports fans, and the pizza shop’s Instagram had to limit comments due to the harassment they were receiving. “There have been numerous attacks on our business, our family, our cell phones, addresses,” says Redd, who says he has received death threats. “It’s been incredibly disruptive to our mental health and to our personal security.” He says the harassment has been such a distraction that he had to miss his twins’ birthday celebrations as a result of having to deal with it.
The fracas has shone a spotlight not just on the often toxic nature of the Barstool Sports fan base, but also on the influence Portnoy wields within the pizza community at large — something Redd says he was hyper-conscious of from the get-go. With his immense power over pizza businesses, Redd claims, “Dave Portnoy is driving people away from my industry. We’re not getting rich. It’s a job. Someone came in and shit on your job, shit on everything you do, how much you make? It hurts.”
Nonetheless, despite Barstool Sports’ commenters claims that he was effectively sabotaging his own business by standing up to Portnoy, Redd says business has been better than ever over the past 24 hours, and that the restaurant sold out of food well before closing. (Rolling Stone spoke with Redd on Friday evening, the same day the video was posted.) “We’re breaking records today,” he says. “Our community showed up in a big way to support us.”
Nonetheless, Redd says he does not regret confronting Portnoy, nor does he regret goading him on social media prior to the review coming out. “Did David regret throwing a stone at Goliath? No,” he says. “It created complications in my life I’ve been unhappy to deal with. But I did something to stand up to something I disagree with. And that’s the American way.”
“We got tested this week,” he says of his 22 staff members. “But I’m proud of what we did.”
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