It’s calmer than what a freshman at Penn might be used to as I walk into Allegro Pizza on a Wednesday afternoon. Eventually after one of the staff members jokingly asks if I need someone for a photo shoot, I sit down to talk with one of the employees. Crystal Nguwen is the 23–year–old assistant manager and social media coordinator who commutes from the Northern Liberties, but she assures me that the customers know her as “the Asian one.” She’s worked here for a couple years and possesses an interesting insight into the Penn community as someone who works at one of the hottest spots on campus.
When she arrives for her 9 a.m. shift, she starts the day with high fives. Specifically, she makes sure to perform her unique handshakes with each staff member. After settling in with the staff as they chat, call out each other for mistakes from the previous night, or roast each other in general, the regulars, who also provide good small talk, come in for breakfast. As noon approaches, catering orders start to pick up. Crystal takes orders from places like hospitals and schools while also giving directions to drivers and generally managing the restaurant during the order period. She enjoys her lunch break at 2 p.m., which is a spectacle in itself. The other employees are always gawking at what she’s brought that day from home because she will bring something elaborate like brie, avocado, and bread and then assemble the entire thing while her coworkers watch.
“The staff is a tight team,” she says, “which is why nothing ever goes too wrong.”
They attend each other’s kids’ baptism parties, birthday parties, and confirmations. Even though working at Allegro Pizza can get hectic, Crystal reminds me that you can’t be too serious because at the end of the day, for her it’s a customer service job and things can go astray. The staff is always happy to laugh and reminisce about funny occurrences after the fact even if at the time they were stressful.
Late on a Friday or Saturday is when most Penn students are familiar with Allegro Pizza. Those nights, all 13 pizzas on the menu are relegated to the five most popular options: Cheese, Pepperoni, Allegro White, Buffalo, and Barbeque because they take less than ten minutes to make. To mitigate messiness and breakages, they switch to disposable cups and to–go containers. She knows that kids coming in will be lively, but she stays focused by reminding herself that they “are just drunk, not malicious.” This helps her block out any negative feelings she might have towards them from how she is being treated. To her, NSO isn’t even that big of a deal. The staff judges it like any other Friday or Saturday night. Fling does not have the same level of craziness, but it is more valued by Allegro Pizza because it provides a constant surge of customers. It’s “more of a marathon, not a sprint,” as she describes it.
Memorable moments are plentiful. She was working the register when a group of six guys came in on a Saturday night and one of them was extremely drunk. When trying to sit the inebriated one down in a booth, the boys pushed him so hard that he knocked the table into the window, shattering the glass. Amazingly, she says with a casual tone, no one noticed until the night had calmed down, and the restaurant didn’t even care that much because they had insurance.
On the other hand, first semester this year, she had to deal with a student who had left her credit card in the restaurant but then broke her leg outside. The student had to send her friend in to retrieve the card, but the card had the mom’s name on it meaning that it didn’t match any present IDs. Eventually the student’s mom had to go so far as to email a picture of her ID to Allegro Pizza so that they could match them and give it back to her, all during a busy Friday night.
Allegro Pizza once encountered what Crystal describes as “an edgelord type student” coming from a house show (a performance in a fraternity basement) who entered the restaurant covered in blood. They subsequently kicked him out, but he caused a ruckus across the street. Cops eating in Allegro were forced to cut their meal short and go across the street to arrest him, and she adds that the cops did not handle him delicately.
A running joke among the cashiers is to tell drunk students that the bathroom is in the back behind the counter. Usually students walk back into the kitchen, realize they’ve been played, and return to the real bathroom. The joke backfired though when a girl was so drunk that she kept going all the way to the back office and peed on the floor, or in the chair—Crystal doesn’t remember. As one would expect, the staff showed more amazement than anger that this girl had fallen for the trick to a degree never seen before.
When it comes to these late nights, Crystal admits “It’s draining, but I don’t get burnt out or anything.” She’s certainly impressed though by many of the girls’ outfits late on a chilly Friday night since she herself gets cold easily. Although she judges people who buy 40s, freshmen who have a noticeable but laughable amount of bravado, or anyone with a truly terrible fake ID, she knows that Allegro Pizza is a place that people find nostalgic. Alumni who have gone off to work in other cities will always stop by when they just happen to be in Philly. Allegro Pizza has sentimental value, and Crystal enjoys meeting tons of new people along with now being able to speak passable Spanish. It’s all part of the job.