When Charlie Redd opened Dragon Pizza in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 2018, his mission was to make pizza with “local ingredients and craftsmanship.” What he did not intend to do is put himself at the center of a media firestorm. But that’s exactly where he’s landed after a video of a profanity-laden back-and-forth with Dave Portnoy went viral last week.
Portnoy, who founded and runs Barstool Sports, a network of blogs covering a mix of sports and testosterone-laced internet gossip, has a history of making and defending racist and misogynistic comments. He’s also perhaps the most prominent pizza critic in America: His recurring YouTube series, One Bite Pizza Reviews, in which he reviews pizza shops based on—you guessed it—a single bite of their pizza, has close to a million subscribers. His stringent, often boisterous reviews can determine the future of a pizzeria, and he frequently features celebrity guests.
In the review of Dragon Pizza, posted on Aug. 31, everything seems to be proceeding as usual: Portnoy stands on the sidewalk outside Dragon Pizza and then takes a bite. He rates it a 6.4 out of 10—a relatively low score for Portnoy. The video then shows Redd approaching Portnoy outside the shop. “Dave, enjoy your pizza as any customer,” he says, “but I don’t appreciate what you do judging a business with one bite.”
Redd goes back inside, only to pop his head out again a few seconds later. “Let me be clear: Move on. Don’t stand in front of my business,” he says.
“Let me be clear: F*#% you,” Portnoy replies. The two go back and forth, hurling insults and curses until Redd goes back inside. Redd later took to Instagram to post some choice words: “F@$K you and the Stool you came in on, Dave Douchebag.” Portnoy’s video on the One Bite channel has more than 800,000 views, and reposts of the video across the internet have racked up millions more.
A few days later, Portnoy appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Twitter, where the two spent 10 minutes discussing the incident. Portnoy seemed excited at the prospect of Carlson’s audience joining his cause. “When you throw the first punch, I want to bury you,” Portnoy says. “I knew I was coming on this show, and I knew your crowd, like my crowd, would be like ‘f*#% that guy.’” Since the interview, a flood of 1-star reviews has appeared on Dragon Pizza’s Yelp page, tanking its rating. (The page is currently under moderation, as Yelp evaluates the spree of negative reviews). A paper plate taped to the window of the shop reads, “We are not talking about it. Orders only.”
In an interview with Bon Appétit, Redd discussed how he experienced the altercation with Portnoy, his response to the national media attention, and the highs and lows of running a small business.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
How do you feel about restaurant critics, broadly?
I love restaurant critics! Restaurant critics play a very important part in showing the public good restaurants and bad restaurants. But there’s professionalism to it that Dave Portnoy does not follow and never has.
What did you know about Dave Portnoy and Barstool before he came into your shop?
That he’s a f*#%ing a*****e. You can quote me on that.
Do Portnoy’s politics shape the way you think of him?
I don’t care about his politics. I don’t care about anybody’s politics. People are people. They have their opinions. Politics is not something that I care about for anybody unless they hold office.
So you’ve never had issues with critics in the past?
No, they’re a person just like anybody else. They have an opinion. Their job is to write about it. You come into my restaurant, you eat the food, and if you don’t like it and you write about it, that’s okay. I’m in the “making people happy” business, and critics are in that same place. But I don’t paint a special picture for a critic. If they’re gonna come in, they’re gonna get the same experience that anybody else does.
What Dave does is different. What Dave does is all about him. It’s not about pizza. It’s not about how it tastes. It’s about him promoting himself. And that’s not a critic. That’s an entertainer. That is the main philosophical difference that I have with Dave Portnoy.
How do you determine if a review is fair or not?
To come into a pizza restaurant and eat one bite of one slice of cheese is unfair, unprofessional, and it’s just not right to the business owners. It’s not right to critique them on such a shallow level. That’s what I told Dave, and that’s why we got into that fundamental argument.
When did you decide that you wanted to say something to Portnoy about his reviews?
The day I opened the pizza shop. I had no idea who he was until I opened a pizza shop and people told me “Oh, you should call this guy.” And because of all the reasons I just laid out to you, I said, “I’ll never call this guy.” The first week of business I was ready to throw him out.
What were you hoping to accomplish by posting about the argument online?
I know he's going to post about it. (Editor’s note: Portnoy has posted about the confrontation multiple times since this interview—he’s even selling multiple T-shirts.) So I wanted to form an argument against it, and that’s what I did.
After Portnoy’s interview with Tucker Carlson, have there been any incidents? Any pushback from their fans?
What happened on Instagram was a blip. What happened [on Tucker Carlson’s show] is the meat on the bone. Am I scared? Of course. I have everything in my life invested in this shop. [This business supports] five adults, their spouses and partners, and 12 children. And all of a sudden I’m caught in a media typhoon. That is not my comfort zone. I can’t even pick up my phone because of the Portnoy and Carlton supporters who are motivated to try to shut down my shop. We’re getting fake orders for massive amounts of pizza every hour. Everything has to be prepaid now, whereas before, we had a good honest business where you called, you gave me your name, and I made your pizza.
Now we’re having to take security measures that we’ve never taken before. I’m getting threats to my shop. I’ve got somebody calling me on my personal cell phone. I’m worried about my children.
I run a pizza shop, and I’ve got a bunch of people that are trying to put my pizza shop out of business. And then there are people trying to carry my pizza shop through this with their support, their kind words, and love.
How has your community reacted to the situation?
People love our food. They like what we do here. It’s a great community, and that’s all there is to it. I love this business because we’ve got kids coming in and I had a bunch of retirees coming in saying, “Go get him, Charlie.” It ain’t about politics. It’s because they like the pizza.