Culture, Community, and Constant Innovation at &pizza
Michael Lastoria is walking through Washington, D.C.’s first micro-hotel. He’s about to hit a milestone of sorts—the brand’s 20th opening—and he couldn’t have picked a more fitting backdrop than the forthcoming Hotel Hive. The nation’s capital has never seen anything quite like it. The rooms are small, the design hip. It’s a space showcasing the affordable side of luxury.
Sound familiar? In Lastoria’s mind, this is exactly the beat of the 2.0 march. “It’s definitely different and something that you don’t necessarily see in ordinary fast casual, this idea of being part of a hotel project in a very meaningful way,” he says. “That’s what makes it so rad.”
The marriage between Lastoria’s &pizza and Hotel Hive has been in the works since the 22-unit brand had just a single location in D.C.’s H Street Corridor. He says the hotel “prices people in instead of prices people out,” while still offering something original, inventive, and gratifying.
This is exactly what &pizza has strived for since it first opened in 2012. The company is, at its pulse, a culture-driven operation promoting inclusivity and quality. It inspires such loyalty that some 75 employees have the brand’s ampersand logo tattooed on their bodies (an act of loyalty that &pizza pays for).
When Lastoria was putting the finishing touches on the hotel spot, he was only two weeks away from another unit’s debut, and one more was on the horizon. In November, led by investment firm AVALT and existing shareholders, the brand announced it received a $25 million investment to expand into several major markets, including a jump into New York City’s NoMad neighborhood. But while the first reflex to such an influx of cash might be to imagine 50 units, maybe 100 units, maybe more, Lastoria says the actual plan will come as a surprise to some.
“I think the capital that we brought in was less about taking what we’ve done and doing it a heck of a lot faster, and more about a testament from our financial partners to believing in the vision and wanting to be a part of it,” he says. “We might spend all of that money or a fraction of that money, but our growth is going to be about doing the right thing first and foremost for our tribe members—our people—and making sure that we’re carving a path that is sustainable, incredibly long lasting, and allows us to continue getting better at what we do.”
Outside the D.C. metro, &pizza now has outposts in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Lastoria’s atlas for the future isn’t drawn just yet. He believes the growth of the company on all levels—food, culture, and evolution—won’t come solely from his beliefs and direction. Instead, he wants the blueprint to emerge as part of a collective effort.
“As we add more people, I think the vision shifts from being the vision of the cofounders to being the vision of the collective company,” he says. “And as we hire really smart, talented, amazing people, that vision shifts even more. … Many of the best ideas that we’ve had over the past 12 months haven’t come from me. They’ve come from the people who have joined this company and put their time, energy, and life force into it. They’re really the driving force of the future.”