&pizza’s founder is serving up experiences and supporting neighborhoods.
By Erica Moody
It’s not your typical pizza parlor. And &pizza’s owner is not your typical pizza parlor proprietor. New York transplant Michael Lastoria, 35, moved to Washington in 2011 with the concept for a community-based gourmet pizza place. “I wanted to disrupt an industry steeped in tradition. &pizza was the obvious choice,” he says. Lastoria has always loved building companies with a focus on brand, and hasn’t been afraid to take risks in the process. After college, he started the successful marketing and media company Innovation Ads, sold it in 2006 and spent the next several years helping to shape agencies and brands. Since launching the first restaurant on H Street in 2012, &pizza now counts 12 locations across the metro area, with three more set to open this year.
Washington Life: Did you think &pizza would be as successful as it is, and why do you think it’s been such a hit?
Michael Lastoria: I don’t think you can ever expect a company to be successful. You hope, and you plan for it to be, but our success is more a testament to our tribe, to our company culture, to the people who make &pizza run, and our guests who support everything &. All I did was bring an idea to life, that’s the easy part. The people of D.C., in particular H Street NE, showered us with love, spread the word and built the foundation that &pizza is today.
WL: &pizza has donated $20,000 to Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen, and hosted a mozzarella-making class for Brainfood and a pizza-making party with DC Autism Parents. Tell us about &pizza’s philanthropic efforts and why it’s important for you to be involved in these causes.
ML: For us, community is everything. We’ve always felt that community is what makes people who they are. Shapes them. Strengthens them. Informs who they become and what they take with them into the world. So it was an obvious decision for us when building &pizza that we had to be involved in strengthening the neighborhoods we serve. And that’s what our &charity arm is all about. Our brand draws its inspiration – everything from store design to music we play in the store to the people we hire – from the neighborhoods around us. We just want to do our part to help make those neighborhoods as strong as they can be and have supported over 500 local causes.
WL: &pizza now offers gluten-free crust and a selection of salads. Anything else new on the horizon?
ML: There are always new things on the horizon here. We’re constantly working to improve our experience. We’re expanding, that’s number one, both in terms of store number, and cultural impact. In terms of products, we’re always exploring fresh combinations and new things to keep our guests involved in the &pizza experience. We have a whole suite of & products being rolled out soon: &sodas, &waters, &teas, &beer, etc.
WL: How does your pizza stand out from traditional favorites like New York style, Jersey thin crust, or Chicago deep dish?
ML: Our pizza is unique in terms of its flavor combinations. Our ingredients are fresh, oftentimes local. And then of course there’s the shape and fact that our guests get to design their own pie and it’s ready in four minutes.
WL: Why should people come to &pizza and what do you suggest for the first timer?
ML: To have a little bit of fun. &pizza is all about experience. That means every time you visit us you find something a little different. The first timer should start with a signature pie and slowly work into a craft your own. And make sure to wheeze the juice…the craft soda is special.
This article appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Washington Life.