Pizza firm locks door on dealers

One protester was dressed in black and white prison garb and was dragging a ball and chain. Another suited up in a gorilla costume calling himself, Con man the Barbarian. They chanted slogans like, “Gone with the Con” and “Austin must go.”

The Toronto Star
May 11, 1993

Pizza firm locks door on dealers
Dale Brazao

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PIZZA PROTEST: Franchise owners march at Pizza Pizza headquarters demanding controversial vice-president Lorn Austin be fired. The company responded by locking its doors.

The embattled Pizza Pizza chain won’t fire its controversial executive vice-president despite a raucous rally by angry franchise owners demanding his ouster.

Some 60 store owners besieged Pizza Pizza headquarters on Jarvis St. yesterday pressing for the firing of Lorn Austin, who has an extensive criminal record for theft, fraud and racketeering.

Austin, 43, who has been calling most of the shots at Pizza Pizza since his parole from prison in 1989, helps manage millions of dollars in advertising and rent monies pooled in trust accounts.

The company’s response to the protest was to lock its doors to franchisees attempting to deliver a letter to Pizza Pizza chairman Michael Overs, demanding Austin’s resignation.

Three hours later Pizza Pizza issued a news release saying Austin is staying put.

“Since Mr. Austin’s tenure with Pizza Pizza, his conduct has been exemplary and he has contributed to the success of the company. Thus we see no reason to sever our relationship with a valued member of our management team,” says the statement attributed to Overs.

It makes no reference to the fact that Austin recently declared personal bankruptcy owing millions of dollars to creditors, or to his lengthy criminal record, which is the main bone of contention with the franchisees.

Overs dismissed yesterday’s noisy protest as the work of a small group of franchisees on a personal vendetta against Austin and said it does not reflect the views of the 242 franchise owners across the province.

A group of 34 store owners has sued Pizza Pizza asking the company to open the books and show how more than $14 million in rent and advertising monies has been spent over the past five years.

Franchisee spokesperson Dave Michael said the firm’s actions are typical of the manner with which it treats franchisees.

“They treat us like mushrooms, not business partners,” said Michael. “These franchisees are here today because they are outraged they were put in a situation of being in partnership with a man with this kind of record.”

One protester was dressed in black and white prison garb and was dragging a ball and chain. Another suited up in a gorilla costume calling himself, Con man the Barbarian.

They chanted slogans like, “Gone with the Con” and “Austin must go.”

One store owner carried a sign with the slogan: “Fancy cars, been behind bars, it’s not funny, he controls our money.”

“Is this a Head Office or a half-way house.” Said another sign.

A three-month Star investigation revealed Austin, who is on parole for masterminding a $4 million gem and credit card fraud in Florida, has been calling most of the shots at Pizza Pizza since his release from prison.


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