Frank Meeks, 28, sounds more like a football coach than a Domino's Pizza franchise owner: "Hustle, hustle. Where's your light? Hurry . . . run, run, run, run."
Sitting outside his Domino's at 8723 Cooper Rd. near Fort Belvoir, as some of his 53 delivery people whiz by, balancing pizza pies, Meeks said they've got to hustle; the company pledges delivery in 30 minutes or $3 off the order.
But all those cars with the glowing blue and white "Domino's Pizza Delivers" roof-top signs have become what Fairfax County police said are easy targets for thieves. In the last six months, there have been 22 robberies of Domino's delivery people in the county, police said.
"It's a lot because it's a very new, evolving crime situation," said Maj. Michael W. Young, commander of the Fairfax County criminal investigation bureau. "We consider it significant."
"We're the visible pizza delivery," said Meeks, who started out in the business delivering Domino's pizzas, explaining why Domino's has been robbed so often.
While he doesn't take the robberies lightly, Meeks said 22 robberies -- 15 of which involved his Cooper Road employes -- are not that many. One has to realize, he said, that already this year his four franchises alone have made more than half a million pizza deliveries in Northern Virginia. "Twenty-two out of that is not a whole lot."
But Young said the pizza problem is "very serious."
"It's a national situation," he said, citing problems in Baltimore and Atlanta, where some of Domino's 2,300 stores are located.
In most of the local robberies, very little money was taken and sometimes none at all. Or just pizza. There has been only one incident in which a delivery person received a serious injury, a fractured knee, police said.
Young stressed, however, that any robbery is serious. "In Virginia we call a robbery a robbery," he said, and a pizza robber could potentially get 20 years to life.
Meeks said Domino's takes several precautions to discourage robberies. "We do our best to keep money off our people. And we'll continue to do that." A Domino's Pizza flyer states: "Our drivers carry less than $20."
Meeks said his telephone order takers are trained to spot a "potentially bad or fake order." In those cases, he said, "we call back."
In many of the cases, police said the robber would order a pizza, give a local address and phone number and then wait outside the home. Meeks, whose delivery area is restricted to a radius of about two to three miles, said it's just not possible to phone every customer.
"No shop that I know of does 100 percent confirmation of calls ," said Dean Crawford, 25, one of the managers of the America's Pizza Express stores in Arlington.
Crawford said he attributes the Domino's dilemma to its size. "Look how many runs they do," he said. "They do more business than all the little stores put together. They're better known so they're getting picked on."
He acknowledged, however, that he's been lucky. Basically, he said, "you're a sitting duck" out there.
Armand's Chicago Pizzeria in Alexandria, which has been delivering for only six months, does not mark its vehicles. Scott Baker, 24, the manager, said his store will verify the order if a delivery of more than $25 is phoned in.
Armand's in the District, which opened an outlet strictly for deliveries six weeks ago near its restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue, advertises on its six camper-like trucks.
But the trucks have two-way radios so the store can be in constant contact with its drivers, some of whom are off-duty police officers, according to owner Lew Newmyer.
According to Meeks, Fairfax police officers have worked undercover in the Fort Belvoir store, delivered pizzas and monitored calls.
Fairfax County Police Chief Col. John E. Granfield, in a first quarter crime report, pointed out that the increase in the number of robberies from 124 in the same period last year to 138 this year could be accounted for "in large part by a series of robberies of pizza delivery drivers" early in the year.
Meanwhile, Meeks, who clearly is enjoying his job as owner/cheerleader, said he lost two employes because their mothers didn't want them to work for Domino's after the publicity.
None of those who have been robbed have quit their jobs, he said.