Telegraph Avenue’s Fat Slice permanently closed its doors in November. Since its opening 34 years ago, it had attracted quite a following of people who appreciated it for its cheap, reliable pizza and casual atmosphere. The core of this following could even be described as die-hard, some customers going weekly or more since the 1980s. Though people increasingly preferred trendier places such as Sliver over Fat Slice’s more traditional slices, Fat Slice lovers and non-lovers alike saw it as a constant pillar of the ever-evolving Telegraph scene. As El Molino High School student Zev Pollick puts it, “The store gives you some type of nostalgic feeling … every time you go, you just feel like you’ve been there a billion other times, and it just really makes you feel like it’s part of Telegraph, that it really belongs there.” Whether people thought the pizza was mediocre or not, Fat Slice was a part of Telegraph — it felt as though it always had been, and the idea that maybe it wouldn’t always be there didn’t cross people’s minds.
The seemingly abrupt closure was met first with shock. “Hold up, it’s closing?!” was the reaction of one Berkeley High School (BHS) sophomore upon hearing the news. After a moment, this was followed by, “That’s so sad. It was such an iconic place.”
People keeping Fat Slice in the backs of their minds as a constant of the Telegraph scene, a vague accompaniment to thoughts of Telegraph Avenue, was not enough to keep it in business. In the end, it was just like many other small businesses — whose failure rate in the first year is 20 percent, and increases in the years after — pushed out by competitors with more money to soften the hard take-off of a business. It could simply no longer hold its own against delivery technology, chain restaurants, and food trends, no matter how much love its fans had for it.
As Berkeleyside reported, the business finally met its end due to a lack of money. There was less and less foot traffic into the shop as people found other means of getting their pizza or food fix, until it was not only no longer sustainable to maintain, but not even possible.
All this said, Fat Slice did beat the odds for a long time. Only 35 percent of small businesses survive through their tenth year of business, and Fat Slice made it through 34. Also, the reason for the high failure rate of small businesses is a lack of need for their products. This fits the Fat Slice situation — in a city with plenty of pizza, a single pizza place is less individually needed. For many people, a suitable replacement for Fat Slice pizza is easy to find. Similar or better pizza is likely to be found among the variety of options in Berkeley alone, ranging from thin crust to deep dish, from sauce free to piled with toppings, from fast food to gourmet, from customizable to one daily option.
BHS freshman Harry Waterman spoke to this point in his description of the experience he and his little brother had with Fat Slice. “I went with my brother Ellis because he preferred the simple cheese and tomato sauce that Sliver did not offer. It was good, according to Ellis, “but nothing remarkable … It was the only plain slice on Telegraph for a long time, which heightened its appeal. Now there’s that iSlice place or whatever. As for it closing, neither I nor Ellis really cared,” said Waterman. They went because they needed the product, but that product began to be offered at other nearby places, so they had less need for Fat Slice, and they found something that was, in their opinion, better. Waterman added: “Sliver was always the better option for me.” However, the same idea of supply and demand when it comes to pizza in Berkeley can go the other way. BHS freshman Mckenna Pattison pointed out the flip side of Waterman’s analysis, saying, “I think that Fat Slice was a unique space on Telegraph. That’s pretty hard to do … with all the pizza on that street.”
Surrounded by other options, Fat Slice managed to create a following, which is pretty amazing. From the beginning, when a couple who had practically never made pizza before, to its unexpected closure, Fat Slice stirred opinions and served the people. The community can only hope that whatever takes its spot at 2375 Telegraph Avenue can fill Fat Slice’s shoes. In the meantime, the only thing left to do is to keep a watchful eye on Telegraph as it continues to evolve.