A night out with the Wenzel guy

No caption.

Often, Yalies cannot declare a weekend night satisfactory without ripping open the brown paper bag containing the infamous Wenzel, a sub sandwich invented by Eric Wenzel ’04 on a fateful Saturday night during his Junior year when he decided to combine hot sauce with chicken. The sandwich was soon after adopted into the Alpha Delta Pizza menu as “Wenzel’s Sub” and, through word of mouth alone, became an instant hit among Yale students.

But without Cuneyt Kuzulu, one of restaurant’s three deliverymen, attaining this late night snack would take a lot more effort.

Five days a week, beginning at 5 or 6 p.m., Kuzulu begins his 10-hour shift delivering everything from pizzas to grinders for nearby residents. But when it comes to Yalies, it’s always Wenzel, Wenzel, Wenzel.

Kuzulu has the addresses memorized: 505 College St., 68 High St., 900 Chapel St. and 345 Temple. “All the time Wenzel!” he said.

His hypothesis for the craze is that Yale students like the hot sauce. Or maybe they just like that the name sounds similar to Denzel, as in Denzel Washington.

Whatever the case, with the occasional exception of a steak and cheese grinder sub, as Yale students we are simply obsessed with this buffalo chicken sandwich. However, he wondered aloud why we wouldn’t want to vary our diets, perhaps with something more interesting like fish.

So, climbing into the backseat of Kuzulu’s car at 11 p.m. last Friday, I was excited to see just how many Wenzels we would deliver in the hours ahead. But then Kuzulu, clad in jeans, a t-shirt and a leather jacket, tossed an insulated bag full of pizzas, buffalo wings and curly fries into the passenger seat.

And away from the Yale bubble I went.

Alpha Delta’s delivery protocol works as follows: the orders are delivered chronologically according to the time each order was placed. Each delivery usually takes about seven or eight minutes. When the deliverer arrives at the location, he calls the phone number provided by the person who ordered. It often just requires the two words “Alpha Delta” before the conversation is over and someone comes outside to reach through the car window and grab the food he or she has been waiting to eat.

Kuzulu’s biggest pet peeve is when, after saying, “Hello. Alpha Delta,” people ask if he is outside. “Of course I am outside!” he said. “Why would I be calling from my home?”

For our inaugural delivery with me and a compatriot in the backseat, we backed the wrong way down a one-way street, passing dark house after dark house, looking for the address of the man who’d ordered pizza, wings and garlic bread. Finally pulling in front of a white two-story building with a dark green door, Kuzulu punched the numbers into his flip-phone and said, “Hi, did you order Alpha Delta?”

Food and money were exchanged, and we were on our way to stop two.

The second order was for 12 buffalo wings and curly fries. Speeding off toward our next destination, Kuzulu said he didn’t need a map because, now pointing to his head, “I have a map right here.”

Having moved to the U.S. from Turkey in 2001, it took Kuzulu just six months to learn the street names of the New Haven area. He and his wife, Dilek, taught themselves English, though they predomitaly associate with other Turkish immigrants who live in their neighborhood of West Haven. They moved primarily for economic reasons — he was fired from his job as a sales manager due to the economic crisis — and arrived in Connecticut with only $15,000, having spent $3,000 on airfare and another $3,000 on the Nissan Ultima he was driving. Between his delivery job and his wife’s Wetzel’s Pretzel’s salary they make between $3,000 and $4,000 a month.

A small version of the Turkish flag is taped on his dashboard along with a photo of his wife. A Christmas tree air-freshener swings back and forth in front of them while a hula skirt clad bear dances nearby. “I like my country,” he said. “All Europe is in economic crisis. I’m happy in Turkey but I need the money.”

Before he was a businessman in Turkey, Kuzulu, like all other Turkish men, performed his required military service. He was assigned to drive the pasha, or military general, in a job that would foreshadow his later work as a Wenzel deliveryman. Unlike now, when he can put his arm over the chair next to him to twist and look back over his shoulder, he relied solely on the driving mirrors and looked straight in front of him.

Calling on his phone to clarify the address for our third order, he spoke in Turkish, later explaining that all employees of Alpha Delta are Turkish, with the exception of the Mexican man who makes the salads. His coffee cup contained Turkish coffee from Starbucks (as opposed to the Dunkin’ Donuts variety, which he said tastes like detergent). And as we drove by Empire Pizza, he said many of his Turkish friends work there as well.

As we headed off for another delivery, Kuzulu reflected on his time in America. “We happy,” he said.

This time, the car was loaded with more pizza, wings, fries, beans, and soda. Though it was already past midnight, it felt like dinnertime in the delivery world. Hoping the car would point toward familiar territory, we drove instead to Science Park to bring someone a pizza.

He called, and there was no answer. “I don’t like the waiting you know,” he said. “This is not respect. In my country, they wait at the window.”

Finally the person came outside, and we continued our route. “Close your eyes,” he said, as we cut through the parking lots of the UPS building and the gas station. Then, commenting on the nearby neighborhood, “Look, the houses look like scary movie,” and, having learned I was from Houston, he added as an afterthought, “Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre!”

The first story he’d told me that night was when, a few years ago, a seventeen-year-old had held him at gunpoint during one of his deliveries. I asked if he’d gone back to work the next day and he said, “No next day, next hour. My boss said, ‘You’re okay, I’m okay. No problem.’”

For this reason, the usual policy for Alpha Delta deliveries has always been that the customer comes to the car. “It’s a dangerous area,” he said. “Police are everywhere turning, turning, turning.”

But when the next customer came out to get her sub and Coke, I was surprised to see a young girl, about six or seven, clad in a purple robe and wandering out of the door. Kuzulu got out to meet her and, returning to car, said, “She was forty cents short.”

We again returned to Alpha Delta to pick up another order. Alas, it was a Wenzel. Arriving at Lynwood at 1:41 a.m., he let me walk to the door to deliver it. A confused Yalie came outside and I thrust the sandwich toward him.

“Alpha Delta?” he asked.

I said yes, but then had no idea what to do when he passed over a credit card. Luckily Kuzulu came to my rescue, laughing as he called Alpha Delta and read the number back to the manager.

Then he turned and walked back to the car, and we headed back to Alpha Delta to pick up the next order.

Comments