&pizza started offering the option about a year ago. Every employee is eligible, no matter their tenure. Customers who spend $1,500 — about the price of 150 pizzas — can get a free tattoo of their choosing too.
&pizza co-founder Michael Lastoria already has some ink, but no ampersand — yet. He says that the company is nearing a milestone — he wouldn’t share what it was — and that if it hits this goal, he will get the largest ampersand tattoo of them all.
&pizza isn’t a typical pizza place. Walk in at the right moment, and you might find the staff dancing behind the counter. Its U Street location hosted a wedding last year on Pi Day (March 14). There are no delivery drivers on staff. That’s left to Postmates or Uber. It does not sell by the slice. It does not offer typical sodas.
“Cookie cutter,” Lastoria says about Coke and Pepsi in an interview Wednesday night, after taking the stage at The Washington Post Live’s Ingenuity technology summit. “Those flavor profiles have been loved by many, but never really tested in terms of — is that really what people like or, is that the only thing that’s available?”
His stores offer flavors such as mango and passionfruit. There’s a pear and fig elixir, and a hopped cola is in development.
&pizza has made a habit of doing things differently. The first shop opened in July 2012 on H Street in Northeast Washington, against the advice of real estate brokers who cautioned on the still-developing neighborhood.
The formula, which Lastoria calls urban and edgy, is working. There are now 13 &pizza locations in the greater Washington area, and there are plans to open roughly eight more stores in 2016. Some might be outside the nation’s capital. Lastoria says they have developed new leaders to go forth and “preach the &pizza gospel.”
Can a pizza shop really have a gospel? Lastoria describes it as the company’s four core values — celebrate oneness, make it personal, keep it fresh and elevate everything.
Oneness is about making everyone — employees and customers — feel comfortable in their skin.
“The people that were more attracted to apply to work at &pizza, they were very much like ourselves — a little bit different,” he said. “They were urban, they were edgy, they had a sense of style.”
Lastoria, who has a unique way with words, doesn’t even use the word “employee” to describe his workers. In the interview, he referred to the team as “tribe” 10 times.
Lastoria says he is careful not to become complacent. There are plans to roll out mobile ordering in the first half of 2016. He says he can envision one day shutting down the Chipotle-like assembly line in favor of customers completing their orders on tablets or smartphones, provided it’s a better experience. More innovations may lie ahead.
“There are a lot of them. But I probably don’t want to get ahead of myself on our first date,” he said with a laugh.