CEO Michael Lastoria’s concept for &pizza began with the goal of making pizza responsibly.
“Where everyone goes right, we go left,” Lastoria said.
“Going left” includes making oblong pies instead of traditional round or square ones, allowing unlimited toppings for a fixed price, and rolling out a line of non-consumer-facing food trucks in Miami that allow delivery orders to be made on the go for a fresher off-premise experience.
&pizza is a restaurant company run by and for Millennials and Generation Z customers. In 2018, &pizza ditched its phone line and went text-only for both customers and employees. Customers can text any question they wanted to the Pizza Plug texting hotline — from store hours to pie creation suggestions — and receive a response within minutes. Lastoria calls it “the modern version of a call center.” All employees, meanwhile, can text Michael Lastoria personally about job concerns and receive a reply within minutes.
“Our finger is more so on the pulse of what’s happening than I would argue any other company out there,” Lastoria said. “Our customer is our employee, and if we get that right and that’s the only thing we get right, I’m fine with that.”
As &pizza continues to grow, maintaining a “small business”-like culture becomes even more important, Lastoria said. This means that &pizza will never be franchised, and that even as the company is poised to double in size by 2020, Lastoria will continue to communicate directly to employees via text and the company’s weekly internal podcast.
“We will be very selective on the types of opportunities we pursue,” Lastoria said. “We are looking at international licensing opportunities, but I would only want to pursue a market that I felt comfortable operating in.”
Part of the company culture at &pizza is that the employee always comes first. In 2018, &pizza adjusted its benefits package so that a store tribe member receives the same plan as the CEO. Additionally, during the last 3 months of 2018, the company implemented 10 new policies based on internal conversations via text.
The &pizza restaurants are designed to look like the anti-pizza shop: a sleek, black and white aesthetic with street art-like designs covering the walls. The tribe member “uniforms” are flexible without a polo or pair of khakis in sight. Nearly every store is playing loud music and each store is designed to give off “the high-energy vibes” of an urban nightlife scene, Lastoria said.
What’s next for the brand? Last year &pizza launched a new app and loyalty program, and will continue to roll out text to order capabilities. And early this year, the brand opened a new store format in New York City called a “pizza cube:” a 300-square-foot, standalone kiosk that will serve as a lower-cost alternative for expansion.
The ventless mini stores can be located in places that are not otherwise zoned or suited for a full-sized restaurant space. In addition to doubling the number of larger format stores, &pizza plans to open more cubes in transportation hubs around the country.