Fighting to Raise Minimum Wage One Pizza Slice at a Time
BY: BILLY LYONS | FEATURED + LEAD IMAGE COURTESY OF &PIZZA
When it comes to values, chain restaurants have a history of finding a unique way to appeal to the masses. However, instead of bringing people together by way of ball pits and 99 cent menus, today’s edible concepts want to leave guests with more than just tasty food to remember them by. One such culinary to community crossover? &pizza, a Washington D.C. based business that’s breaking with tradition—and not just because their pizza is shaped like a race track.
We caught up with Michael Lastoria—CEO, co-founder, and creative director of &pizza—to learn more about how a shop selling oblong pizza pies is setting the standard for employees and social awareness within the industry.
Why is pizza a great way—perhaps the best way—to raise awareness?
Pizza is universal. There is no age bracket, no socioeconomic threshold, no political alignment. It is the ultimate unifier.
What do you love about being an entrepreneur and the business you are currently in?
Everyone has ideas about something. What they would do if or how they might improve that. Or a business that would create this. But it’s only the entrepreneurs who, once they have that idea, feel consumed by it. It’s only the entrepreneurs who feel that idea eating at them, propelling them, compelling them into action. So for me, it’s not so much that I love being an entrepreneur. I simply am an entrepreneur. There is no other thing I could be doing, because I have to take ideas and turn them into action and see how they turn out. This business is the current manifestation of that compulsion.
You are a strong advocate of raising the minimum wage. Why?
I mentioned before antiquated or inappropriate traditions. This is one of them. &pizza is built on the shoulders of its “Tribe.” They are the lifeblood of our brand. They are what makes us unique, what gives us character and humanity and what propels us ever forward. The idea that they would work for us to that end and not be able to live off their earnings is a cruel, inhumane notion. That’s why we fight for a livable wage. It’s an important fight. It’s as simple as that. I’m also a firm believer that people are generally going to do good. They’re not just going to walk away with a higher wage and do nothing about it. They’re more likely to pay it forward, believe in and be loyal to the company’s core values, enjoy the work that they’re doing, and be able to advance in their careers. This concept goes beyond just paying people more–it’s about making an investment in people, and fundamentally believing in people.
Not all CEOs of fast casual concepts have been so outspoken about the topic of minimum wage. Why?
It’s not a popular thing to do because the short-term result is that businesses make less money. But businesses need to think about long-term impact of paying a living wage. Treating employees with fairness and respect by paying a higher wage leads to long term improvements in the business, including lower turnover rates, which leads to more money that can be invested in training.
Do you think fast casual concepts in this day and age must be socially active in order to succeed?
Marketing metrics and the rest of it might say that there are imperatives for a brand to be successful. I don’t believe that. Every brand is different, every brand resonates with different people for different reasons. If a brand does it just because some marketing metric tells it it must to survive, I have enough faith in consumers to see right through that.
What’s your favorite pizza on the menu? Is there any topping or version of pizza–let’s say Nutella–you won’t try?
My favorite pie on the &pizza menu right now is The OG aka Margherita. I’m someone who will do absolutely anything once, so there’s nothing I wouldn’t try on a pie. I also wouldn’t put something on the menu I didn’t love.