When a stranger unexpectedly showed up at her door with a pizza in October 2016, Florida grandmother Claire Olsen was suspicious. The retired woman was puzzled, too; everything had been up in the air of late, but she did not recall having ordered a pie. She agreed to open the door to the pizza man, though. And yet she was left amazed by what the driver delivered as a side for her pepperoni.
Claire lives alone in the city of Palm Coast in Flagler County, Florida. In the fall of 2016 the retiree was 87 years old and had witnessed a lot of weather over the decades. But when Hurricane Matthew rolled in and darkened The Sunshine State in early October, her neighborhood was thoroughly rocked.
Eric Olsen is Claire’s grandson, but he lives almost 1,500 miles north of his granny. Having grown up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Eric now lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his boy, Claire’s great-grandson. The 32-year-old hospitality worker serves at Mark’s Bistro in the city and also tends bar across town at the Brickway Brewery and Distillery.
As busy as Eric undoubtedly is – working two jobs with a kid to raise – nonetheless he must have had plenty of time to worry when Hurricane Matthew menaced Florida. Claire had lived through many hurricanes down the years, but she told her grandson that Matthew was particularly catastrophic. Eric spoke to ABC News on Wednesday, October 12, 2016, saying, “I talked to her on Friday morning, and she had just lost power, and she said, ‘This is a nightmare.’”
After that call, neither Eric or the rest of Claire’s kin heard another word from the live-alone granny. And Matthew smashed into Palm Coast later that day, wreaking widespread devastation. So when the family had still not received any contact from the cut-off Claire two full days after the category-five hurricane had struck, they began to fear that she may not have survived the natural disaster.
Eric subsequently told ABC News that he had tried to get in touch with his grandmother through the official channels. He remembered, “I was calling the police department, I was calling the sheriff’s department, and no-one was answering, so I was really worried.” But, puzzled and upset at being unable to get any answers, Eric came up with a very imaginative solution.
Unfortunately, the Omaha man did not have any other family or friends in the area of Palm Coast. “I was just thinking, ‘Who can go there right now? Who can I call in a city where I know no-one?’” he recalled. “So I just said, ‘I’m going to order her a pizza, and if they can deliver it, then I know she’s alive.’”
The anxious relative therefore placed an order at his grandma’s local Papa John’s on the Sunday after Matthew. And the only outlet of the pizza chain in Flagler County fortunately happens to be in Palm Coast. But Eric requested a very special topping for his pie. Included with the order was a note with some very specific instructions for the delivery driver to follow once he had arrived at the recipient’s house. Lance Tyler was the Papa John’s man tasked with delivering the long-distance pizza purchase to Claire’s address.
The only problem was that the grandmother had not been expecting any callers at her home on Sunday, October 9. It had been a dramatic couple of days, but nonetheless Claire could not recall having called for a pizza. So it was a big surprise when she opened her door to the Papa John’s delivery guy, but when Lance put his cellphone to Claire’s ear, she got the surprise of her life.
Lance was later interviewed by local Florida channel WFTV, and he revealed that Papa John’s typically receives a lot of orders in the aftermath of a hurricane. However, the pizza man told the TV cameras that this particular job had been extra special and would take some topping.
When the delivery guy got to the address, he dialed Eric’s number as the instruction note had detailed. Lance explained to the WFTV reporter, “The way that he answered the phone – ‘Is she there? Is she okay?’ – it sounded like he was worried.”
Lance knocked on the grandmother’s door, and thankfully, he got a response – albeit a somewhat confused one – from Claire. The retiree insisted to the delivery guy that she had not ordered anything from Papa John’s. But when Lance explained that the pizza had arrived courtesy of her grandson in Omaha, Claire opened the door.
The pizza man had a pie in one hand and his cellphone in the other, and he handed both over to Claire. And she must have been amazed to hear her grandchild on the other end of the phone at the other end of the country. Claire later described the initial conversation to WFTV. She recalled, “[Eric said] ‘Grandma, I haven’t talked to you in two days. I got worried about you. You must be hungry by now.’”
The loving grandson had ordered Claire a pepperoni pizza that she described as “fantastic.” And it was clear that Lance was delighted to have played his part in reconnecting the cut-off granny with her family. “Her expression was just priceless,” he told WFTV about the surprised retiree’s reaction. “It was like, ‘Wow!’”
Shortly after speaking to Eric, Claire’s telephone service was back up and running. Consequently, the granny rang around her loved ones to let them know that she had weathered the storm and was okay. Eric told ABC News, “Police and fire couldn’t do it, but Papa John’s got there in 30 minutes and put the cellphone to her ear.”
But, while he was full of “relief” that it had all worked out, Eric added that getting a pizza delivered had certainly not been his first choice in checking on his grandma. “People are asking why I didn’t call the police and ask them to do a wellness check, but I did,” he insisted to the ABC cameras. “Trust me, Papa John’s was a last resort.”
Happily, a few months after Matthew had been and gone, Eric was able to thank Lance in person. Both men were invited to Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas, in February 2017 as guests of Papa John’s. The restaurant franchise company was the official pizza sponsor of the football fixture, and Lance was the winner of the firm’s first-ever “Halftime Heroes” promotion.
Eric subsequently took to social media to share his excitement. “Big shout out to Papa John’s Pizza for making this week absolutely amazing!” the Omaha man posted on Facebook. “I am thankful to have been blessed with such an amazing experience. I’m happy to be an official part of the Papa John’s Pizza Family.”
The story touched people’s hearts and Eric’s followers praised Papa John’s on Facebook for helping out a family in their time of need. One commenter wrote, “BRILLIANT! I’m so glad to hear she made it through alright.” Others held up Eric as a fine example of a devoted grandson and voiced the hope that Lance had received a big tip.
Another Facebook user summed it all up nicely in the comments below Eric’s heartwarming update. “Well done, Papa John’s Pizza,” they wrote. “You went above and beyond the call of pizza to serve your customers. People before profits: priceless. You can’t buy advertising that good, no matter how good the pizza tastes.”