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Phantom Gourmet kisses ass, defends Upper Crust

Bitter aftertaste
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  January 6, 2011

 TJI_010711_Phantom_main

The day after Christmas, those who follow the Phantom Gourmet's Facebook feed were treated to a provocative status update.

"Let's name restaurants that deliver," wrote the Phantom. "I'll start: Upper Crust Pizzeria."

It took only three minutes for someone to raise an eyebrow.

"I don't order food from places that don't pay their employees," Megan Boyer Tobins wrote. Quipped Jim Farrell, "If you mean deliver illegals from Brazil, then, yes, upper crust [sic] is your restaurant."

The Upper Crust chain — which has been a sponsor of The Phantom Gourmet, the local food show run by brothers Dave, Mike, and Dan Andelman — has been in bad odor in Boston since early last month. That's when the Boston Globe reported that the company employed dozens of illegal Brazilian immigrants who worked up to 100 hours a week with no overtime pay. When the United States Labor Department ordered the company to pay $350,000 in back wages in 2009, the Globe story said, the Upper Crust paid up but slashed employees' salaries to less than minimum wage.

In the last few weeks, the Globe reported, the state attorney general's office has been investigating the Upper Crust for their alleged violation of minimum-wage laws. Further, a whistleblower filed a civil suit alleging, among other things, that the owner threatened to kill him.

These trespasses didn't dissuade a Phantom Gourmet follower named Bob Ullman, who jumped into the Facebook fray to defend the Upper Crust: "Exploitation of employees? Give me a break!" he wrote. "If people are willing to work for X dollars an hour with no benefits then it's their fault, not the employer. They are in a business, not a charity!"

Quoth the Phantom Gourmet: "Bob, good for you, they have hundreds of employees and do a lot for charity and generate millions in tax revenue, I would think we would all be rooting for businesses to expand and hire. Plus, the pizza is really tasty." And soon after: "I'm sorry to tell everyone, but without illegal aliens, there is no restaurant business." (No one from Phantom Gourmet could be reached to comment on this article.)

Patrick Maguire, a restaurant-industry blogger, saw the exchange and was incensed. He had recently declined to appear as a guest on the Phantom Gourmet television show because the Upper Crust remained a sponsor, he said.

Maguire waded into the Facebook thread, and reported the Phantom's comments on his blog, servernotservant.com. His post tapped a nerve in the foodie blogosphere, launching a debate about the role of illegal immigrants in the Massachusetts economy.

Bloggers across the political spectrum questioned the Phantom Gourmet's support of their advertiser — to the extent of condoning the exploitation of illegal immigrants.

The Phantom Gourmet is "essentially saying it's okay to look past laws that are on the books, whether you like those laws or not, if you like the end product," wrote blogger Dave Copeland.

To which one of his readers responded, "They're as filthy as the despicable owners of UC. Shame on all of them."

Still, Maguire says, "I thought it was encouraging that a lot of folks are willing to discuss these issues and not willing to tolerate the exploitation of workers, regardless of their immigration status. They're people trying to make a living for themselves and their families. They don't deserve this sort of treatment."

Related: Taxi turmoil, The high cost of free markets, Rough Seas Ahead, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Boston, Facebook, Minimum Wage,  More more >
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11 Comments / Add Comment

Anonymous

Does the Phantom Gourmet ever have anything critical to say about any restaurant? They talked about Cosi -- COSI! -- like it was the best delicacy this city had to offer. Give me a break.
Posted: January 06 2011 at 3:08 PM

Meghan

We stopped eating at the Upper Crust back in the summer when rumors started to circulate. It just isn't worth it to support a business that is so unfair to its workers.
And you can pretty much guarantee that if something is recommended on the Phantom Gourmet, it is to be avoided. Do they ever promote quality restaurants?
Posted: January 06 2011 at 7:57 PM

Vivian Vex

Freaking WOW. Yes i will agree that a business is not a charity and it's sole purpose is to make money, however there is also something called social responsibility, you should treat your workers fairly. Also a good business not only makes money for its owners but also for their employees as well. There is a difference between cutting costs and just plain screwing people over. I've completely lost respect for the Phantom Gourmet. I don't care how tasty the food is, you don't treat your employees fairly, you failed as a business and as a person. Shame on you!
Posted: January 06 2011 at 8:50 PM

Anonymous

Phantom Gourmet is over now, hopefully. Right on, Meghan... PG is an excellent indicator of where not to eat.
Posted: January 07 2011 at 3:04 AM

Mike29

I go past the Upper Crust store in Waltham all the time but have never gone in. Out of curiosity, I looked up the menu. A 14-inch three-cheese pizza, gourmet thin I presume, for $14.25. I can go a couple of hundred yards further up Moody St. and find two places(Athens Pizza and Angelo's) that offer two large, hearty cheese pizzas for less than that. Perhaps they should rename it the Yupper Crust.
Posted: January 07 2011 at 12:59 PM

Big Paulie

The Phantom Gourmet appeals to a particular demographic; the kind who probably already flock to the mediocre-at-best restaurants that they recommend. True gastronomes ("foodies" -- yechh, I hate that term but it's relevant, here) already know what they're all about and avoid them like the plague.

I'd hazard a guess that Phantom Gourmet's fans couldn't care less about the plight of under-paid, over-worked exploited people at all. It's all so very clear to me I can't understand why it's a question to some people.

Upper Crust will go on. They're a thriving concern and serve a customer need. There's a chain in New York City and boroughs called "Ollie's" that's been exploiting people for years (and has paid hefty fines and penalties for doing so) but they still thrive. Remember, when a Yuppie's hungry, political-correctness goes out the window.
Posted: January 07 2011 at 1:46 PM

Anonymous

Just bought a great 16" cheese pizza at Comella's in Arlington for $5. Much better in many ways than the overpriced pizza I tried once at UC in Watertown...
Posted: January 07 2011 at 4:23 PM

mumbles

I used to snark about the Phantom Gourmet/Andelmans because they have the palettes of toddlers - everything on their show is burgers, hot dogs, pizza, mac and cheese, and ice cream sundaes. But now that they show a callous view about the livelihoods of the folks who make them their (crappy) food, it raises my contempt to a different level.
And yeah, Upper Crust pizza sucks.
Posted: January 08 2011 at 1:54 PM

Patrick Maguire

1/8: At the end of the radio show the 3 brothers announce where they'll be going to dinner:

Mike: Upper Crust in Wellesley for take-out.

Dave: Renzo Pizzaria Revere

Dan: Babysitter cancelled so he said he was going to join Mike at Upper Crust for a beer while Mike was waiting his pizza.

The saga continues...
Posted: January 08 2011 at 7:16 PM

Snoopy

Does "Phantom" still require guest businesses to agree not to appear on Billy Costa's show?
Remember how they covertly tried to get rid of their last host Bouchard (sp?) --
Want a good review ? "Show me/us the money!"
Posted: January 10 2011 at 8:21 PM
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