I have a love-hate relationship with chain restaurants. Like anything, there are good ones, and there are bad ones. But not everyone agrees. Mention Cheesecake Factory among a group of foodies and the groans and sneers will be palpable. This, in spite of the fact that Cheesecake Factory is actually one of the better chains in America today.
I have a fascination with bad chain restaurants. I’m like a deer in the headlights when I discover one. Like a car wreck on the highway, I can’t help but stare. I can’t look away. There is just something about eating really bad, really cheap food that I enjoy. Oddly, I’m attracted to places that are guaranteed—pardon the pun—to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. It’s masochistic. I know.
I recently scratched my bad chain itch by dining at CiCi’s Pizza. Though calling it dining is a stretch.
For the uninitiated, CiCi’s is a buffet style all you can eat pizza chain. For less than six dollars, they offer limitless pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
All the pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert you can stuff into your greedy maw for less than 6 bucks. Damn. That’s cheap. CiCi’s has taken cheap eats to a new high—or low, depending on your perspective.
The first question that comes to mind is how can they make any money? They do charge two bucks for a soda, so that helps. And considering their targeted demographic, my guess is 95% of guests spring for the optional liquid candy. But still, that brings the average check to just under eight dollars. There can’t be much room for profit there.
I won’t keep you in suspense, CiCi’s makes money by keeping food costs as low as possible. I’m no expert in running a restaurant, but I do know that generally, food costs account for about a third of a restaurant’s expenses and they are one of the easiest to control. One look at CiCi’s ingredient page is all you need to draw the same conclusion as I do. This is not food. It’s a science experiment, the goal of which is to create incredibly cheap, edible product. And after eating there, it shows.
The food at CiCi’s—for the most part—is an abomination.
One example: The cubes of chicken on the buffalo chicken pizza are miniscule. I’d say they are the size of your pinky nail, but they are actually closer in size to the pinky nail of a four year old. I kid you not. It doesn’t taste like chicken either. It’s spongy, with an unpleasant fattiness. Thankfully, they don’t put very much of the fake chicken meat on the pizza. (Hey, even fake chicken costs money).
90% of what you’ll eat there is either weird tasting, or just plain bland. The one exception is the cheese pizza. Despite being wedded to CiCi’s low quality crust it’s actually tasty. To be fair, there were a couple of other slices that were ok. For all the gory details read my yelp review.
Has my harrowing experience at CiCi’s dampened my grotesque fascination with really bad chains? No way! Quite the opposite. I’m already looking forward to my next stomach wrenching adventure.