It was a busy Sunday evening for Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizzeria, a small pizza shop on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. But it got even busier after an order worth $10 million came in.
Around 5 p.m. last Sunday, franchise co-owner Edgar Martirosyan took a call from someone ordering 10 pizzas to be delivered to the 86th Academy Awards ceremony at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater.
It’s not unusual for production crews to order pizzas from Big Mama’s and Papa’s and other local pizza shops during major Hollywood events such as the Oscars or Grammys. So Martirosyan assumed the pizzas were for the backstage crews working at the Oscars ceremony, says Wayne Grigorian, head of marketing for Big Mama’s and Papa’s, which has 20 franchises in Los Angeles County.
“Usually they are technicians and electricians” working backstage at Hollywood productions, Grigorian says. “Those are the ones ordering pizza.”
When Martirosyan arrived at the back of the theater with his pizza boxes in tow, however, he was escorted into the auditorium and soon greeted by Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres.
“[Ellen] approached him and said, ‘Walk with me,’” Grigorian says. “That’s it. Next thing he knows, he’s right in front of the camera.”
Martirosyan was shown on live television (to the Oscars’ estimated 43.7 million viewers) during the Oscars ceremony handing out slices of his pizza to actors sitting in the front rows of the star-studded audience. Celebrities such as Jared Leto, Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford are seen grabbing slices out of the signature red and yellow boxes with Big Mama’s and Papa’s logo.
The high-profile yet unexpected free publicity of delivering pizza to stars at the Oscars paid off immediately for Big Mama’s and Papa’s. The company, which is about 20 years old, saw online orders jump 400 to 500 percent in the hours following the TV appearance, Grigorian says.
Monday’s sales at the Hollywood store were also up about 20 percent more than a typical Monday, though they were getting back to normal by Tuesday.
Owner of the Big Mama’s and Papa’s chain Aro Agakhanyan told The Wrap that the company saw a huge surge in Web traffic during and after the Oscars. “We had over 60,000 visitors on our website in one hour; there were a lot of things happening,” he says.
More important than the immediate order surge, however, is that hundreds of media outlets from around the world, including in places like Australia and Europe, were calling Big Mama’s and Papa’s requesting interviews. They spent much of the day Monday and Tuesday fielding calls from reporters and doing interviews with TV stations and other news outlets. “Before I even got into the office [on Monday], I had about 20 messages on my phone,” Grigorian adds.
Martirosyan, who immigrated to the United States from Russia, did a follow-up interview talking about his Oscar night experience on Monday’s Ellen DeGeneres Show. Martirosyan had left Dolby Theater on Sunday night before DeGeneres could tip him. She said she collected about $600 in tip money by passing around singer Pharrell Williams’ oversized hat to stars at the Oscars. She then pulled another $400 out of her pocket, and gave him a full $1,000 tip during the interview.
Grigorian says they're not sure why DeGeneres or whoever arranged the pizza delivery bit during the Oscars decided to order from Big Mama’s. There are several pizza shops close to the Dolby.
DeGeneres is a regular customer at another Big Mama’s franchise that is near her show’s Burbank theater, so he added that could be the reason.
Grigorian recently learned that an ad that runs during the Oscars telecast can cost to the tune of $10 million. The exposure that Big Mama’s and Papa’s received from the Oscars appearance was likely worth far more than a typical ad, though, he says, because the company has generated so much publicity and social media buzz.
“It’s just unbelievable that this happened and they picked us,” he says. “We are very lucky … very grateful.”
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Photos: Getty Images, Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizzeria