There is no doubt Jay Jerrier is deft with social media. Certainly the quality of his food helps explain the success of both locations of his Cane Rosso pizza restaurants, but his skilled use of Facebook and Twitter doesn't hurt. The Deep Ellum location of his Neapolitan pizza restaurant has more than 8,000 likes on Facebook. Lucia, considered by many the best restaurant in Dallas, has 3,000.
So by the time Jerrier was ready to open his newest spot, a New York-style pizzeria in Oak Cliff, his Internet presence had gathered its own inertia. A Facebook page for Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern was quickly spotted by D Magazine, and the restaurant had a blog post published about it before Jerrier had even settled on a location. The momentum was building, post by post.
Jerrier's not just social-media savvy, he's traditional-media savvy, too. He held a slew of preview events that produced pizza porn by the pound. There were five mentions of the spot in D by the time the restaurant opened last night, and four more here on City of Ate.
So last night at 5 p.m., when Zoli's was expected to open, a sizable line had already formed outside the door. Two women dropped out quickly. "We're going to go drink and come back," they said, which turned out to be a solid plan, except for the coming-back part. Inside the restaurant, a computer glitch was delaying the opening while outside demand continued to swell. When the doors finally opened there was a deluge of hungry people.
The line stretched the length of the restaurant and then snaked around the tables. And while the cashiers were taking orders, a lingering computer issue held up the tickets servers planned to use to deliver slices. The place was loud and uncomfortably warm. Seating was at a premium. Stress levels were high, and some of the staff looked like they'd been dropped into a sugared-up kindergarten class without any training.
"The amazingly poor service is what got me," someone named Donny Perry wrote on Zoli's Facebook page, where more than 70 people weighed in on the first-night fiasco. "There was no excuse for that. The wait staff had the personalities of a wall. A smile, a thank you, a we're sorry for the delay could we get you something to drink? These are kind of basic things."
Trinh Tran piled on: "My family and I were affected by the computer glitch. After waiting 40 minutes for our order, we found out it never made it into the system. Luckily we saved our receipt and later got it (although it was wrong)."
But there were far more comments from customers who supported Jerrier despite the rough start.
Patrick L. Boyd-Lloyd blamed the customers for showing up in the first place: "ANYBODY who goes to a place on OPENING NIGHT is CRAZY!!!"
Kathy Maloy said her group of five had items missing from their order but despite the error "the food was absolutely delicious!!!"
Regardless of the customer's sentiments, last night was a disaster. Jerrier called it that himself, citing chaos with the ordering process, a green staff and overwhelming crowds. He decided to shut the restaurant down early, and apologized to his customers. He also promised to open again tonight at 5 p.m.
Suddenly the old-school, pre-Internet, quiet soft opening isn't looking so bad.
Zoli's 202 W. Davis St., 214-942-9654, zolispizza.com