This story is over 5 years old
The Moral Compass Issue

Pizza Wars

Bombing a Papa John's Pizza franchise to get all of their customers sounds like a good idea if you're from Florida, the cerebral palsy-ravaged appendage of the United States.

by Bill Bryson , Photo: Dale Gunnoe
Jan 11 2012, 3:15pm

The scorched interior of a Papa John’s franchise in Lake City, Florida. Surprisingly, the arson had nothing to do with the quality of their pizza.

Florida is synonymous with “crazy weird shit.” This is probably because it’s a place where people go to escape the rigors of being a bipedal human forced to pay attention to boring things like traffic lights and the weather. But inside this cerebral palsy-ravaged appendage of the United States, there are intense pockets of ugliness that make one wonder if the entire peninsula is powered by Hee Haw reruns.

Take Lake City, which lies about 50 miles west of Jacksonville and proudly proclaims itself the “Gateway to Florida.” Its freeway exit features a gigantic Confederate flag, assuring visitors of the stand-up people they are about to encounter. And it’s also where (celebrity alert!) serial killer Ted Bundy murdered his final victim, 12-year-old Kimberly Leach.

Of course, Lake City wouldn’t be such a great place to live if its residents didn’t constantly strive to outdo themselves, and they did just that in late October, when Domino’s Pizza store managers Sean Everett Davidson, 23, and Bryan David Sullivan, 21, allegedly burned down the competition: a Papa John’s franchise across town.

According to published reports, Sean recruited Bryan to torch their shitty-pizza rival (several blocks away, on a fast-food-covered nightmare stretch of US-90) because Sean was sick of seeing the Papa John’s trucks driving by his store, where business wasn’t going so well.

Bryan told police that he and Bryan believed sales at their Domino’s chain would improve if their competition down the street was no longer smearing slop on crusty bread and selling it to people. Their motive? A bonus of a few hundred dollars, split between the two of them, if they could move a few more pies out the door.

After hatching their Nobel Prize-worthy plot, the pair built a few incendiary devices using a kitchen clock, a nine-volt battery, and a sandwich baggie containing a small amount of gunpowder. After failing to ignite the Papa John’s with one of these makeshift bombs, they resorted to using an accelerant to set the building ablaze, burning Bryan’s arms in the process. They also told a few people about their plans, a strategy that proved helpful to the police, who quickly arrested them on felony arson charges.

As of late November, the Papa John’s store is still scorched and gutted, but it’s pretty clear that the would-be arsonists had no idea how to properly destroy a building.

When I stopped by the Domino’s where Sean and Bryan worked, it was empty of customers and the phones were quiet, despite the elimination of their competitor. Even if they had gotten away with the crime, chances are they wouldn’t have scored that bonus.

“Sullivan had been working for the company since he was 16, and it was the only job he’d ever had,” one of Bryan’s former colleagues told me. “He’s never been in trouble before. We do background checks on all the employees, but you can never tell when someone will do something stupid.”