Bullying may have nothing to do with pizza, but for the new corporate owners of the Pizza Factory chain, both are important.
Murrieta residents Mary Jane and Bob Riva are the longtime owners of two local Pizza Factory franchises, one located on Temecula Parkway and one in French Valley. On Sept. 12, the Rivas bought the Pizza Factory company, which includes 110 Pizza Factory stores in five Western states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington and Idaho. The 111th store is opening soon in Hesperia and new stores also will open soon in Visalia and Henderson, Nev., as the business continues to grow.
Among the first initiatives the new presidents/CEOs launched was to institute an anti-bullying campaign to raise awareness. The campaign has included T-shirts with targeted messages for employees and students to wear; the development of a new program to offer schools in all the states where Pizza Factory is located; and the completion of an anti-bullying video featuring drama students from Dorothy McElhinney Middle School in Murrieta.
“The anti-bullying campaign is something we really wanted to get involved with,” said Mary Jane Rivas on Wednesday, as she and her husband drove to visit the corporate office in Oakhurst, near Yosemite, where the first Pizza Factory store opened in 1979. The restaurants are all franchised but three are corporate-owned. The Rivas opened their Temecula store in 2000 and the French Valley store in 2006.
They have established a “No Bullies Allowed” policy at stores corporate-wide. Each Pizza Factory received black T-shirts for owners and co-workers to wear. The front of each shirt reads, “Don’t Be A Bully” and the back reads, “No Bullies Allowed.” Riva said it was up to the franchise owners to decide if employees would wear them, and many did every day when they first came out. Riva encourages store employees to wear them on the same day at work, perhaps every Friday.
“Most of the kids want to wear them all the time,” said Riva, adding that the stores may sell the shirts to customers if they want. “We’re getting a lot of response.”
In addition, videographer Dean Kruger of French Valley created a short video for Pizza Factory called “No Bully Zone,” starring students from McElhinney Middle School. The video highlights statistics about bullying and the fact that bullying is tied to suicide.
“That’s pretty cool we were able to get the local kids. We had a big party for them afterward, like a cast party. It was nice of them to do it,” Riva said. The video is posted on the Pizza Factory Facebook page and at each restaurant as well.
According to recent data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 70 percent of students are affected by bullying whether as a bully, a victim or a witness. Cyber-bullying is a new and dangerous trend too.
And bullying doesn’t just happen at schools; victims are bullied by bosses or co-workers at work too, Riva said, noting that restaurants often employ teens and young people. “There’s bullying in the workplace too, there’s bullying everywhere. Everybody’s touched by it.”
Pizza Factory is putting together an anti-bullying program corporate-wide to offer schools, she said. The company also plans to make more videos and bring on some well-known athletes to help. Pizza Factory also ran an anti-bullying commercial on Fox Sports.
“My goal is to do something to have a complete program to take to the schools and say, ‘Here you go.’ There’s no cost. We really want to help supply the schools with a program or help them with their existing program. One school we gave 300 shirts to in Arizona. We’re trying to get the schools involved.”
Amy Bentley is a local writer and regular contributor at SWRNN.