"Sasha is probably the nicest person on the planet, with the exception of my mother," Pagliacci co-owner Matt Galvin said.
“That is very frustrating," Sasha replied when told this. "I’ve been lobbying against his mother for years.” He quickly adds a ‘just kidding’ to be sure he's not taken seriously and dropped from the nice person list altogether. “I could say similar things about Matt, which is probably why I’ve been with this company for 20 years.”
Sasha started working at Pagliacci as a delivery driver in 1995. He’d come to Seattle from his hometown of Albany, New York to become a devoted ski bum. Delivering pizza for Pagliacci fit his lifestyle perfectly. “I could ski in the mornings, work in the evenings, and even get some free food,” Sasha said. “But I eventually got a little bored in the summer times and returned to school to study economics. My schedule was odd. I attended spring, summer, and fall taking winter quarter off, to ski of course.”
Despite the ski bum persona, by the spring of 2003 Sasha had graduated 2nd in his class in Economics at UW. “I was happy to earn my degree, but sad because I felt like I should be doing something with that degree but didn’t want to leave the company I thought so highly of.” In the midst of this existential crisis, after delivering pizzas to the phone center at the central office, Matt followed him out to his car. “I remember feeling quite nervous, worried I was in trouble or something.” Matt had read a self-evaluation Sasha had filled out in which he’d stated he was interested in advancing within the company. Matt suggested he apply for the position of Operations Assistant. “I was so darned impressed Matt had read my self-evaluation, remembered it, and chased me down. There are 100s of employees!”
Matt recalls the moment, “I came out to his car and said ‘What's next?’ Sasha looked at me like I asked him to tell me the meaning of life. I told him I thought he was a great guy, smart, likable, and would be a great addition to the office support staff.”
Sasha decided he really wanted the job. “I wrote a long letter. I even included a nice letter a customer had written about me.”
Matt remembers the letter well. “The very next day Sasha gave me a nine-page letter about his talents, experience, and passion for all things Pagliacci. After I got through the letter, which took awhile due to its length, it was clear that he would be a good addition to the team.”
“I have since been involved in a lot of hiring with the company and realize my letter may have been a bit excessive,” Sasha said. “I was really hoping I’d get the job.”
He got the job, hands down. A year later the Driver Manager position was created and Sasha ran with it. He currently manages over 250 drivers for Pagliacci. Every new driver gets the privilege of hearing Sasha’s two-hour orientation speech. Jeff Woodruff, Pagliacci’s VP of Operations said, “I’ve actually heard Sasha joke about interrupting drivers during the orientation to point out that this time is for him to talk.”
“I estimate I’ve oriented well over 1000 drivers,” Sasha said.
Originally Sasha filled his role from the central office. John Clifford, Pagliacci’s Director of Operations, recalls those days. “Lots of long phone conversations with managers, drivers, or job applicants. First the shoes would come off. Then he’d begin padding back-and-forth.” It became clear that it made more sense for Sasha to be out in the stores having those conversations face-to-face. “They tried for years to get me out of the office. I was somewhat resistant. After it finally became clear I couldn’t dodge it any more, I started working in the stores. Now I wish I’d done it much sooner.”
An average day starts when he goes to a store to work with the lunchtime catering operations. Between lunch and dinner he’s doing office type work—reports, emailing, interviewing—and in the evening he’s in the stores training drivers or managers, or if it is a busy night he is making pizzas, delivering pizzas, or expediting deliveries for the drivers.
While some at the office miss watching Sasha pad back and forth like a pendulum, his crew is very appreciative of his presence in the stores. “He is an amazing mentor, his calming reassurance and easy going attitude has helped in my transition to driver lead,” Lindsay Paul, a driver lead, said. “Anytime I have felt in need of advice or not sure about what to do next in my role he has been there to help guide me.”
Jeff seconds that. “Our managers see Sasha as an advocate and ally. Sasha has always been the person in the OPS group that our managers go to when they have a question or concern that they want to bring forward without ‘embarrassing’ themselves. They trust him and this has proved beneficial in a lot of situations.”
By all accounts Sasha is a man of passion in all things. When his interest in hairpin turns on the slopes tapered off it was replaced by biking and an avid interest in golf where he is ‘just a hacker in the '80s’. Most recently, no great surprise, making perfect hairpin turns at the racetrack has become his number one passion. Sasha is now a driving instructor at the racetrack for the local BMW club. “The main benefit is that I get to drive for free.”
His need for speed on the roads doesn’t extend to pizza deliveries. “As a driver manager he is fanatical about knowing the rules of the road and following them,” John said. “But the time he brought field manager Steve Crotts out to the track, Steve was legitimately scared with all the maneuvers Sasha was pulling.”
Sasha shares his life with Bobbie Biondi, with whom he owns a house, and his 8 year old step-daughter Malu. They met when Bobbie began delivering pizza for Pagliacci. “I was really hoping she’d quit because I really wanted to ask her out,” Sasha said. “Fortunately for me she did quit. I gave her a call, thinking I might offer to do an exit interview, certainly not something I usually do. We started dating and have been together for four years.”
Sasha's great sense of humor has led to some great practical jokes. In a long-ago water gun fight with his then GM Beverly Nash, he was rope-a-doped into shooting himself in the face with his own water gun by a nozzle that could be reversed. That indignity was only exceeded by having to hear Beverly tell the story about once a month for 10 years. “He loves it when you give him a hard time,” Shelley McNulty, Project Manager, said. “When you don’t, he begins to worry.”
“Sasha’s lean figure is a testament to the fact that pizza can be eaten every day,” John said. “He’s eaten more Pagliacci Pizza than probably anyone the world. It is an every shift meal for him, with the exception of a hamburger lunch on Saturday.”
His passion for Pagliacci Pizza extends to his colleagues and crew. “The thing that sticks out to me most about Sasha is the sincere gratitude he feels for every driver that works for Pagliacci,” Lindsay said. “I remember the first time he told me ‘We are lucky to have you.’ It struck me. I have been in pizza for 13 years and never felt so welcome and appreciated.”
“I consider Sasha to be the nicest, most genuine person I work with,” Jeff said. “He truly cares.”
“Virtually every driver and manager appreciates how kind and caring Sasha is,” Matt said. “We are lucky to have him.”