Phony pizza order costs business a lot of dough

May 12, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

A local business owner who went out of her way to help her neighbors was left holding the bag – and the pizzas.

The Pizza Ranch in Waconia received an an unusual call at 6 p.m. April 12.

The male caller said he was at a wedding party at the New Germany City Hall. He said the caterer had called to say that his truck had broken down, and was being towed back to the cities, and he would not be able to deliver the food.

The caller said they had a hall full of people and desperately needed meals for the guests.

He ordered pizzas – a lot of pizzas.

Pizza Ranch owner Shawna Caswell took the call. She asked the caller for a phone number, but he said he was with the wedding party and they were “still out bar hopping,” but would be back at the hall soon. He said his mother-in-law was freaking out, and he just needed to be able to tell her it was taken care of.

Caswell sprang into action. She told the caller she would put together her usual buffet mix of pizza varieties and said she would take care of everything.

She called in extra staff and made up the 54 pizzas the caller ordered.

The real trouble began when Caswell arrived in New Germany and tried to deliver the pizzas.

There was a wedding party at the hall, and she recognized many of her friends and customers. She asked where they wanted the pizza, and was told they had already eaten and had not ordered any pizzas.

“The wedding party was really great. They felt so bad, and they had the band make an announcement and allowed us to sell pizzas in the back of their wedding reception,” Caswell said.

She sold $15 pizzas for $5 to try to recover some of her cost.

“Word got out pretty fast. There were people walking down from the bars, asking where they were selling the cheap pizzas,” She laughed.

Even at the discounted price for such a large order, the total would have been more than $600, and they only took in $190. This does not include the loss in time and labor.

“We gave away a lot of pizzas to our customers in the Norwood store, and even some kids walking down the street got free pizzas,” Caswell said.

Despite the loss, she kept her sense of humor.

“There were a lot of happy people at 1:30 a.m. because they had pizza to take home with them,” she said.

Caswell was also very impressed with the performance of her staff.

“I was proud of these 15- to 17- year-old kids who didn’t have a lot of experience. We had the order delivered in an hour and ten minutes,” she said.

Caswell called the sheriff’s office to report the fraudulent order at 8:15 p.m.

“They were doing their best to serve the community,” Chief Deputy Bob VanDenBroeke of the Carver County Sheriff’s office said.

Some people at the party had an idea of who may have been responsible, a person who was not invited and not present at the party, VanDenBroeke said, but the individual was interviewed, and investigators were not able to verify his involvement.

“At this point, the case is not being actively investigated, but it is not closed. We would appreciate any information people might have about this case,” VanDenBroeke said

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Carver County Sheriff’s office. During business hours, people can call (952) 361-1212 and ask for an investigator. After hours, the number is (952) 361-1231. Callers can choose to remain anonymous.

Those with information about this or other cases can always call the department’s 24-hour anonymous tip line, (952) 361-1224, and leave a message.

“They have been a good business partner for the community,” VanDenBroeke said of the Pizza Ranch.

Caswell and her husband, Jeff, have an interest in the Pizza Ranch locations in Waconia, Norwood Young America, Delano, and Glencoe.

They have been in the business for 18 years, and have never experienced anything quite like this. Neither Caswell, nor the wedding party are likely to forget the event any time soon.

“It’s not the something we would want to have happen again,” Caswell said.

Despite the loss, she is able to look at the bright side.

“We may have earned some new customers, and people who have never had our pizza got a chance to try it. In a way, it was good marketing,” she commented.