Behind the Counter at Canyon Pizza

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Although the time I visited the Grand Canyon holds a special place in my heart, there is one canyon I love more than our great American landmark: Canyon Pizza.

Perhaps I love it because of its proximity to my apartment (which is right across the street), perhaps it’s because each slice is only a dollar, perhaps it’s because the death of Grillers left me with almost no other late-night food options (I would need to be incoherent to ever willingly go to Taco Bell), or perhaps it’s because the taste is unmatched by any other late night pizza places in State College, but I love Canyon Pizza.

I have patronized Canyon at all times of the day, and I’m very proud of that, but I found that I couldn’t truly appreciate Canyon Pizza until I spent a night behind the counter with the true heroes — the night shift Canyon Pizza crew.

The night shift typically runs from 8:00 p.m. until close — either 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., depending on the night — although the hours really depend on the position: cook, delivery driver, or counter girl. These Canyon employees are a part of the team that serves between 500 and 600 pizzas on a typical Friday or Saturday night.

Obviously there are some setbacks to working the drunk shift, like being forced to give up a night of partying, but counter girl Paige Christensen understands that having a job at Canyon is a give and take agreement.

“I don’t mind having to give up my weekend nights because you still feel like you’re going out because it’s basically a party,” Christensen said. “Even if my friends are going out they’ll usually visit me at work anyway.”

Her job can quickly get interesting when she is dealing with drunk customers — especially the men. After a night of drinking liquid courage, the men are more forward when expressing themselves.

“I’ve been proposed to probably more than 100 times,” Christensen said.

Some guys aren’t shy about asking for Christensen’s number while she’s working. Depending on how determined they are, sometimes she’ll give them the number for Canyon just to get them away, which seems like it would be equally useful because if you can’t have human interaction, isn’t pizza the next best option anyway?

Moving our focus to the hidden cogs of the machine, the cooks have a pretty tough job too. In fact, in order to even get the job at Canyon, candidates must be able to spin out a pizza in less than 60 seconds.

The ironically named pizza cook, known as Taco, once timed himself as he created six pizzas, clocking in for an average of 23 seconds. But that isn’t even fast enough when the rush hits.

“We make the dough during the day shift when it’s slower, so when the rush hits at night, we have it ready to make quickly,” Taco said. “We fill six racks (shown below) to prepare for a typical night.”

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However, even with the pre-made dough, Penn Staters quickly become frustrated when they’re forced to wait for pizza to be ready. The oven spits out a pizza every thirty seconds, but not even the oven that fits between 8 and 9 pizzas, each able to cook in two minutes, is able to keep up with the masses some nights.

Taco has worked at Canyon for about six years so is used to pretty much any antics and stress that come with the job. Although, before a shift that he knows will be intense, such as State Patty’s Day, Halloween, Homecoming, or home football games, he’ll sometimes listen to music to pump him up. “Nothing fazes me anymore,” Taco said.

Ever wonder why there are no security guards patrolling Canyon at night like at McDonald’s or Taco Bell? It turns out there are not many security issues at Canyon because everyone apparently puts on their nice face for pizza. In recent years, the incidents that required workers to kick people out have become less frequent, according to owner Matt Floravit.

In the past, Canyon employees have needed to kick people out for fighting, talking to the counter girl for too long, and for vomiting on themselves. It was explained to me that if you do anything to hold up the line or anything that violates basic health codes, you’ll be kicked out.

The most absurd crime that has ever occurred at Canyon, however, is also the reason for the chained down condiments. One night, Christensen noticed that the ranch was missing. Not to allow the mystery to go unsolved, the Canyon employees checked out the security camera tapes and found the culprit. The thief picked up the ranch, started drinking from the jug in the store, and ran out of the establishment. She remains at large to this day, but now the ranch and other condiments are fastened to the counter.

Regardless of the time of day, the employees at Canyon Pizza are essential to creating the ambiance and mystique that surrounds Penn State’s most popular drunk pizza place. And, yes — even from the other side of the counter, we can tell you’re drunk.

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