By Mae Velasco, Custom Content Editor
Looks like one fast-casual pizza chain is now rolling in dough. &pizza — a trendy, quirky brand known for the personality it packs and for the gourmet handcrafted pizza pies that come with it — landed a $25 million investment deal with private investment firm AVALT. AVALT has invested in foodservice giants such as Dunkin' Donuts, Domino's Pizza, and Outback Steakhouse before, hinting at the potential they see in this up-and-coming pizza star.
And with big promise, where else to go but the Big Apple? Headquartered in Washington, D.C., and making its home in the surrounding area with 18 locations, &pizza is expanding into New York City. A brave move, considering New York and the diehard pizza fans who reside there appreciate the area's particular style of thin-crust, wide slices.
According to Bizjournals, this investment is building on another $1.9 million investment the restaurant secured in 2014 and with the $10 million it raised in 2015. Along with joining in the New York competition, CEO Michael Lastoria anticipates further developing the company in D.C., North Virginia, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, the last two being the most recent markets it entered this year. &pizza will end 2016 with 21 locations and expects to open the first New York store in Midtown Manhattan toward the middle of next year. In total, between eight and 12 &pizza doors will open in 2017.
"We're not competing to put as many stakes in the ground as possible," Lastoria said. "We want to be as thoughtful as we can about smart growth."
Will this brand succeed? It wouldn't be surprising. If the millennial generation could be put into a pie, it might look like &pizza. Not only does the restaurant chain localize each store design and dedicate itself to the communities it serves by using local ingredients (not to mention the fact they use organic dough and have gluten-free dough available), its fun, inventive flavor combinations (such as the "Elvis," which features banana, bacon, chocolate-hazelnut peanut butter, and grape jam) and company culture are also high selling points.
Its team of more than 300 employees are referred to as members of their "tribe" and Lastoria has been an enthusiastic supporter of the $15 an hour minimum wage increase to support the living costs of his staff. Millennials are nothing if not attracted to the unique and socially-conscious. &pizza nails this to a T, especially with its &CHARITY philanthropy and various beverage options, whether it is craft soda or from their &WINE or &TEA lines.
"We wanted to create a brand built with purpose on the shoulders of our tribe and providing starting wage significantly above the minimum,” he said.
Where will this self-proclaimed "anti-establishment establishment" go from here? New York will find out and it'll be exciting toss up to see how it will break barriers.