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&pizza Is Rolling Out High-Tech Food Trucks From a Silicon Valley Startup

Eater logo Eater 9/19/2019 Tierney Plumb
a truck is parked on the side of a road: &pizza’s new truck rolling through D.C. © &pizza/official photo &pizza’s new truck rolling through D.C.

Homegrown fast-casual chain &pizza just found a way to enter new markets at record speed, rolling out three branded trucks that will serve the same menu of oblong pies found at 36 locations up and down the East Coast.

The company announced a new partnership today with Zume, Inc., a Silicon Valley-based startup that leases out high-tech kitchens on wheels. Andy Hooper, the recently named president and COO of &pizza, says the plan is to plant the mobile units at foot traffic-heavy areas like office parks, hospitals, and events. Zume, which has also experimented with robot-made pizzas, pulled in a $375 million investment last year from SoftBank

The first &pizza truck from Zume will appear this month at the Kennedy Center’s new cultural hub, the REACH, which has drawn droves of people with a free festival featuring movie screenings, meet-and-greets with chefs, and concerts from Thievery Corporation and other bands.

Hooper says leasing the “mini-fleet” will help the company determine its expansion strategy by testing how stores would perform in different markets. The trucks are equipped with an intelligent software platform the helps to optimize operations and calculate demand depending on location and the time of day.

“These are truly restaurants on wheels,” Hooper says, adding that “you’ll see us very soon in Maryland ... we’ll be posting up as a preview in front of our next two permanent shop locations.”

Along with making and selling the same pizzas found at each brick-and-mortar location, each truck can experiment with new menu items that could eventually stick around at stores. The branded black-and-white trucks also double as ads for &pizza, “essentially a 30-foot moving billboard,” Hooper says.

The company is no stranger to adopting high-tech alternatives to the traditional pie shop. This spring, &pizza installed a prototype of compact kiosk in Union Station. The tiny, 300-square-foot cooking cube is equipped to churn out 300 pizzas in under an hour.

“You’ll also see more cubes and more traditional brick and mortar shops before the end of the year,” says Hooper.

Erik Bruner-Yang, the D.C. restaurateur behind Maketto and two restaurants in the Line hotel (Brothers and Sisters, Rammy-winner Spoken English, was named executive chef at &pizza this summer.

The first menu items under Bruner-Yang’s watch for &pizza are currently featured in its three New York shops, including some non-pie items like garlic knots and stromboli.

Along with the &pizza truck, Bruner-Yang is also previewing his incoming ABC Pony cafe through Saturday, September 21, at the new $250 million addition to the Kennedy Center.

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