If you’ve been one of the few thousand fans who have been down to the Wells Fargo Center for a 76ers or Flyers game since COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in March, you may have made it a point to go grab your favorite slice of Lorenzo and Sons pizza.

You may have gone to the same stand you’ve always gone. You may have purchased an oversized slice from the well-known 28-inch pie. And when you got back to your seat and bit into the gooey slice, you may have noticed something else.

“That’s not my product,” claims Giuseppe Pulizzi, Lorenzo and Sons owner.

And he’s right. It’s not.

Instead, it’s an Aramark product. Different cheese. Different sauce. Different meats for the toppings. But, it’s the same size, a slice of a 28-inch pizza, being sold at the same building locations. And there was nothing to tell you it wasn’t Lorenzo’s.

In each of the stands black draping was added, which covered the Lorenzo’s sign overhead. But that’s it. There was no other indication that Lorenzo and Sons was no longer operating out of the Wells Fargo Center.

Unless you were a really observant fan, you went there thinking you were getting a Lorenzo’s slice, and got something completely different.

Why would they do this?

Well, there’s a lot more to the story. But in order to tell it, we’re going to take you back to the very beginning.

Lorenzo and Sons pizzeria was a popular, mom and pop pizza joint in South Philly, known for their larger slices and their great taste.

They were, and still are, a neighborhood treasure, but Pulizzi, who bought the pizzeria from his father Lorenzo, the original owner, in 2006, decided he wanted more than just the denizens of South Street to be able to take in his famous 28-inch pizza.

So, in 2013, Pulizzi signed a contract with Aramark and the Wells Fargo Center to open a stand inside the building.

“We had to pay rent quarterly and we got a percentage of the sales, so that was mostly a wash,” Pulizzi said. “Being in the Wells Fargo Center was never about making money for me. It was a marketing strategy to help grow the business.”

And grow it did. Pulizzi opened up a West Chester location, at a high-traffic area close to West Chester University. He also added a spot at Xfinity Live! and at the new Live! Casino and Hotel as a partner with the Cordish Company, which operates both locations.

For eight years, prior to the pandemic shutting everything down, Pulizzi said Aramark told him that Lorenzo’s pizza was the No. 2 seller food-wise in the Wells Fargo Center. It was sold out of four locations inside the building, in sections 102, 114 , 207 and 220.

But then COVID-19 happened, and things took a turn for the worse. While Comcast-Spectacor waived the rent for the final three quarters of 2020, rent was due in January, 2021 with fans returning to the stands in early March. However, like most restaurants, Lorenzo’s was hit hard by the pandemic, and needed more time to scrounge together the significant money to pay it (every vendor contract is different and every rent price is different. Crossing Broad did not obtain rent costs for Lorenzo’s, but we know the rent was due quarterly and totaled six figures).

At the time, representatives from Aramark, who Pulizzi had never dealt with before, nor had ever met in person (primarily because of the pandemic), were pestering him for that rent money despite Pulizzi’s request for an extended deadline until the product started selling again inside the building.

This is when things reached a breaking point.

“The people who got me in there to begin with were always great to me, but they weren’t there anymore and these new people, I didn’t know anything about them, they didn’t know me and we had only talked on the phone or by email,” Pulizzi said. “They wanted the rent and I told them I wasn’t paying it until I could start selling my product in the space again.”

The decision then was made by the Wells Fargo Center and Comcast-Spectacor, in conjunction with Aramark, to only open certain stands around the arena because so few fans were going to be allowed into the building.

This would seriously cut into Lorenzo’s sales, and the way the partnership works is somewhat lopsided. Comcast-Spectacor always got their cut – whatever that cut would be, likely somewhere in the 30-35% range. That money was paid, no matter what. Spectacor wasn’t losing out. They were getting their tribute.

The remaining slice of the monetary pie was split between Aramark and the vendor. Each contract was different based on percentages, but Pulizzi said that his percentage from all four locations basically covered the rent to be there. If they were going to limit the locations, and less money was coming in, it suddenly made no sense to stay in the building – at least for now.

“That’s when I knew it was time to go,” he said.

Lorenzo’s was joined by other vendors such as Campo’s and Rita’s Water Ice in leaving the Center after such a long run of success.

Pulizzi said he felt like they were parting on good terms and that the door was left open to potentially go back into the building at a future time once the stands were filled again and all four locations could be opened.

“We had a good partnership with Lorenzo’s and we wish them nothing but the best,” said a Wells Fargo Center spokesperson.

All Pulizzi asked, in an email to Aramark, was that they didn’t try to mimic his product if he was no longer in the building. He sent Aramark an email at the end of January asking for that to be the case.

After all, Spectacor did own the machinery in the building. The brick ovens. The 28-inch pizza pans, etc, so there was a sure bet they would use them, which makes perfect sense. They are a company replacing a product that was lost. And Pulizzi didn’t necessarily have a problem with them using that equipment. He just didn’t want his specs staying in place. Nor did he want Aramark’s pizza to be passed off as his.

(the new pizzas being sold at former Lorenzo and Sons locations)

“Everything in there is my recipe,” Pulizzi said. “We were the first mom and pop store to be brought in there. Before us it was all franchises like Seasons (Pizza) or Papa John’s. I brought the first mom and pop recipe to the building.

“I just didn’t want them to do the same exact product because then you are confusing the fans. Since it’s in the exact same spot.”

Once the building reopened though, Pulizzi started to get comments on social media and from guests in his other locations that the pizza didn’t taste as good at Wells Fargo Center as it used to taste.

Pulizzi was perplexed. He told these individuals that he was no longer in the Wells Fargo Center.

Then he saw the pictures.

Nothing had changed except the black curtain over the name, which you can see here:

The stands were not renamed. And all they were making was the 28-inch pizza. Fans were simply oblivious. They had no idea this change was made.

And while it can be expected that Comcast-Spectacor, the Wells Fargo Center, and Aramark will respond to this by now renaming the stands where Lorenzo’s once operated, it doesn’t necessarily answer the question of why the situation was handled this way in the first place, and then allowed to continue for two months.

This is what set Pulizzi off. Here was, what he considered, an inferior product, not necessarily being passed off as his, but also not outwardly explained to consumers that the pizza was something else entirely, thereby sullying his reputation in the process.

“They did exactly what I asked them not to do because it hurts my business because it’s not the same pizza,” Pulizzi said. “Now I’m getting backlash on our Facebook page that our product isn’t as good at the Wells Fargo Center”.

At the advice of his lawyer, Pulizzi contacted Aramark General Manager Chrissy Flanigan in April and asked her to stop selling the pizza as if it is his product.

He said Flanigan told him they were going to continue to sell the pizza that way  – after all, he didn’t have a trademark on 28-inch pizzas –  and that the decision came from above her. If true, this meant someone from Wells Fargo Center or Comcast-Spectacor signed off on this.

Crossing Broad reached out to Aramark for a comment on this matter, and they sent a statement through a spokesperson that said:

Due to the limited capacity at games, we’ve had to limit our menu offerings and have opted to make many fan favorites in-house, including pizza, cheesesteaks, chicken sandwiches and more.”

This seems fair enough, especially with popular vendors pulling out of the Center last minute. But does it really justify the need to dupe the fans into believing these “favorites” are from the local iconic establishments they have grown accustomed to over the past several years?

Pulizzi argues no. And he has a valid point.

“I never saw this coming,” he said. “I was always friendly with the staff there. It wasn’t like (the people I partnered with there) just decided to make a big pizza. This came from high up. My feeling is, they knew exactly what they were doing.”