Beloved Washington D.C. fast-casual chain &pizza opens the doors of its new location on Astor Place just across from NYU classrooms on Washington Square on Oct. 3. The brand is known for its focus on sustainable and local ingredients, collaborations with artists, premium on individuality and ever-growing tribe of followers.
Though the idea for &pizza was conceived in New York City, the restaurant got its start in Washington D.C. five years ago and has moved northward through locations in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Philadelphia. This is the 23rd store in total and the second in New York.
Founder and CEO Michael Lastoria shared his thoughts behind opening a pizza shop in New York in an exclusive interview with WSN.
“To open up a second location in New York City is really powerful and emotional because bringing pizza to New York that’s not New York pizza is a little crazy to begin with, and even harder to do it in a way that’s different — and our product is different,” Lastoria said. “It looks different, the ingredients are different, the way it’s packaged is different, the way we design our shops, the way we think about our employees, or ‘tribe members,’ just everything is different.”
One thing that is definitely different about &pizza is the way it is made and priced. Customers can pick from a list of unique signature pizzas that include American Honey, a spicy pepperoni, mozzarella, goat cheese and hot honey pie; and Farmer’s Daughter, a breakfast pizza featuring spinach, egg and Italian sausage. They can also create their own pizza with unlimited toppings for the same price. After ingredients are picked, the pizza goes through a conveyor belt and then right into the hands of the consumers.
As for the ingredients and the store design, &pizza works with local artists and artisanal food producers to make each store as unique to the area as possible. At this store, which is named “The Mark,” &pizza’s local food partners include Momofuku’s Milk Bar, Mike’s Hot Honey and Luke’s Lobster.
“We always try to design every shop to pay homage to or reflect the neighborhoods that we open up shop in,” Lastoria said. “This shop is called ‘The Mark,’ and our ampersand has always stood for inclusion, unity and connectedness, so it’s this really cool symbol for us that was something larger than life. It’s really just about bringing people together while still celebrating their individuality. We’re trying to remind people of the importance of making their own mark and celebrating that with the opening of this shop.”
This message of inclusion, locality and corporate sustainability has formed into a larger-than-life vision that is part of why &pizza has garnered such a large following. It is also why many seek employment there.
CAS freshman Ava Mclaughlin only had positive things to say about her experience working at &pizza.
“I love working here,” Mclaughlin said. “It’s super fun, and there’s a lot of great energy. I think the [vision] is really interesting. I’ve never worked at a place that has a such a cool culture.”
Lastoria said he credits the growth of his business and the success of the stores to the enthusiasm of workers.
“That’s our tribe, and at the end of the day their embrace of the symbol, their ownership in this company and [their] really giving a damn allows us to have the type of service we do, which allows us to get guests really excited about the product,” Lastoria said. “That really has been the foundation of our growth.”
Lastoria plans on getting his first ampersand tattoo on Tuesday at the shop when it opens. He said he had walked into a few different parlors at different times to get it done, but that he felt he needed to establish the brand in New York, where he thought of the idea, before he could get one. The first few people that arrive at the shop are also welcome to get the logo tattooed — free of charge. Lastoria said he hopes the stores will be just as permanent as the tattoo he is getting.
“Every time we open up our doors, we are thinking about how we can be a long-term, sustainable restaurant in this neighborhood, and that’s really baked into our DNA,” Lastoria said. “We want to be here for decades. We want to be the pizza shop that anchors Astor Place. If [students] go to school, graduate, and they come back for their 10-year anniversary and remember their first &pizza experience, that would be incredible.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Amelia McBain at [email protected]