SHE’S THE Morgan Freeman of pizza — a voice I’d recognize anywhere.
“We’re delighted you’ve called!” “Hello, Seahawks fans!” or, if it’s a dark and stormy night, “Please leave the porch light on for the drivers!”
Lilting, laughing, cheerful, charming, she could sell shave ice to a polar bear — or at least convince you that goat cheese is good, Salumi’s salami is better and that, yes, you do want a pint of Gelatiamo gelato with your pizza Primo.
She’s Jun Kenney, the voice of Pagliacci, and she’s had my number for 20 years.
Most Read Stories
- Coronavirus daily news updates, June 4: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Sounders part ways with broadcaster and former coach Alan Hinton over tweet
- Seattle-area protests: Protesters remain on Capitol Hill on seventh day of action after George Floyd's killing
- Seattle-area protests: March during sixth day of action after George Floyd's killing draws massive crowd around City Hall
- ‘Can’t breathe’: Tacoma police restraint of Manuel Ellis caused his death, medical examiner reports
I remember the first time I recognized that voice. It was the early ’90s. I’d just pulled a dinner shift waiting tables and invited a couple pals home to hang out. It was late. We were hungry. So I dialed Pagliacci Pizza.
The Voice knew where I lived (not too far from the sole delivery kitchen on Queen Anne), what type of pizza I’d ordered last time (beats me), and promised we’d see a driver shortly (bless her heart). And I distinctly recall — in an era where I was still using a typewriter — turning to my friends and wondering, “How did she know that?”
“My Rolodex was my first computer!” explains Kenney, letting out a laugh familiar to the 52 customer-service representatives she oversees at the company call center on Capitol Hill. Where, if last year’s numbers are any indication, she and her crew will field as many as 5,500 calls on Halloween, the busiest night of the year.
Today Pagliacci has 18 delivery kitchens, and Kenney, 60, vividly recalls when she was the one and only call girl. Back then, she’d sit in an “itty-bitty room with three phones on the wall.” When a call came in, she’d give her Rolodex a whirl to find a corresponding name and phone number — on a card she’d inscribed with the customer’s address and favorite pizza.
When company founder Dorene Centioli-McTigue bought her a clunky computer in 1993, Kenney programmed it herself, using phone numbers to create a database: my own factoids among them. She no longer has that Rolodex, but she’s got electronic call records going back 15 years.
As the queen of customer service, it’s her job to teach her CSRs to listen, type and talk simultaneously, to sell suggestively but not aggressively — and to do it all in 90 seconds.
But nobody does it better than Kenney, who straps on a headset and answers phones five nights a week. She even has a private line for special clients.
“You mean like Bill Gates?” I asked. Nope. Like the guy who’s been calling in for 20 years and says “Talk dirty to me.” He’s just kidding, she says with a cackle, but “No one wants to hear that.” Doesn’t bother her. “If I’m not here, he doesn’t order!” And then there was the “nasty, belligerent salesman” known to drunk-dial a takeout order then drive to his nearest delivery kitchen to get it. Kenney put a stop to that years ago.
“Knock it off!” she scolded. “If you want pizza, call me and I’ll make sure it happens.” True to her word, she’d send a driver out of the way, knowing the salesman would stay off the road — and tip well. He’s since moved into the delivery area, is among her legion of regulars, and sends her homemade wine at Christmas.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bettina Hansen is a Times staff photographer.