Homegrown casual chain &pizza just installed a prototype of a compact cube kiosk in Union Station that’s equipped to churn out 300 pizzas in under an hour. Before the cube served its first pizzas today at the transit hub’s bustling food court, CEO Michael Lastoria told Eater that the “really small footprint concept” has five other models in development, with locations to be announced in the coming months.
”I see a very big opportunity for us to open a number of these on a year-in, year-out basis,” he says.
Lastoria has been looking to land inside the Union Station for the past five years, but construction costs and price per square foot were limiting factors.
”I think one of the challenges there is that the retail and restaurant space on the ground floor is extremely expensive,” he says. ”It’s near impossible to ventilate in random places like a transit station.”
The cube — which is ventless, flexible, and can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of days — seemed like the perfect fit.
”For us it increases the available real estate for expansion,” he adds.
The futuristic pizza prototype’s inaugural location was intentional. It’s close to the booming brand’s first store, which debuted along H Street NE in 2012, as well as its current headquarters in Union Market.
”All of that is a nice brand story of everything happening in Northeast,” Lastoria says.
The cube allows &pizza to enter new markets quickly or work with landlords and community spaces to set up short-lived pop-ups like, say, a temporary placement on the National Mall. Some cube leasing structures, however, will be similar to existing brick-and-mortar locations (10 years with a 5-year option).
Each cube serves the same menu found across the company’s 34 existing locations along the East Coast (build-your-own or eight signature pizzas under $11). Each is staffed by a similar amount of employees.
”There is very little that has changed,” Lastoria says. “The difference is you’re not walking physically into an &pizza.”
The cube also sports two, not one, areas for customers to pick out their toppings and follow their pizzas. The second line can be flicked on during peak times at the transit hub. Guests can also order ahead through their desktop or mobile app. In 90 days, Lastoria says, they’ll be able to text ahead to order.
He wouldn’t get into the weeds of the machine itself, only confirming the cubes are built by a domestic manufacturer that formerly had an exclusive agreement with Starbucks for its kiosks.
“What makes Starbucks special is there is one on every corner, including at the top of ski slopes and random places you don’t expect,” he says. “We’ve created a prototype to do something similar, where, it doesn’t make sense for a pizza shop to be here and operating.”
Lastoria says the brand is also focused on building out a fleet of tech-enabled trucks. He envisions some markets housing eight to 10 pizza shops, four to five cubes, and two to three trucks.
”That combo gets us market saturation three to four years faster than if we did it the traditional way of all brick-and-mortar, which is time consuming and expensive,” he says.
He confirms the brand is continuing to plant locations across the DMV, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston.
Two locations will be opening soon in New York City (one on Wall Street and another TBA site). A few more markets south of the D.C. area will also be announced soon.
The company’s iconic black-and-white pizza box caught national media attention this year when a Georgetown University student was caught scarfing down &pizza between hearings for Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee.
”We love that kind of stuff — it’s fun. You have no idea what the internet will choose to make famous on any given day,” Lastoria says.